And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It seems I’ve been thinking about parenting a lot lately, and in particular, what it means to be an older parent, with adult kids. This became pretty clear to me last week, on retreat in Valton, Wisconsin, when I sat down to work on what I thought might be a book, not entirely sure what it was to be about, and ended up writing the first chapters of a novel about a woman working through letting her children go.
Oh, I thought. I guess you’re thinking about this more than you thought you were.
Over the last few years, there’ve been a lot of changes. I’ve had to adjust to having a child move to another state farther away than a car ride, and apparently, that move is permanent, and so I have to settle myself to seeing that child maybe only once a year or so. Her move occurred just before Covid hit, and so I went 2 years and 10 months without seeing her, which was excruciating.
I also had to adjust to my youngest getting older and older, and being more and more on her own. Soon after Olivia started college, I watched an episode of the television show Atypical, about an autistic boy as he graduates from high school and moves on to college. In this particular episode, the mom realizes her son left some required paperwork behind. She brings it in to the college office and is told she can’t drop the papers off, because she’s not the son. She tells a friend, “It’s like I’m suddenly not allowed to be his mother anymore.”
Oh, I felt that.
In the one case, with my daughter who moved, she didn’t seem all that affected by not seeing me for more than two years. I no longer had a role in her life, except as visitor. And in the other case, because of my daughter reaching a certain age, I wasn’t allowed to be her mom anymore, despite my being her advocate for all of her years.
I’ve been feeling like I’ve been fired.
And yet…there were two instances this week where I felt like a parent again, but in a slightly different role. Or posture, really.
First, my son asked me to come with him to pick out new glasses. I agreed, because I know what it’s like to try to pick out glasses when the frames still just have fake glass in them and you need your glasses to see, so you can’t really see what you look like. That seems like a simple thing.
But I also fully remember the story of this son when he got his first pair of glasses. He was the first of my then-three children to need them. He was four years old. His preschool teacher told me he’d flunked a vision test they’d given at school, so off we went to the eye doctor. The doctor did all of the usual things and said words like “astigmatism” and “near-sighted” and he eventually fashioned a pair of glasses for my son to try. “Here,” he said, “put these on.”
And Andy was awestruck. Behind the lenses, I saw his eyes widen. His jaw dropped. He put a hand up on each side of his head, holding the glasses on, and his gaze swept the entire room, up, down, left and right. “Oh!” he kept saying. “Oh!” And when the doctor took the glasses off and Andy’s world fell back to what it had been, his whole face fell. The doctor explained we had to have his glasses made, just for him.
“Mommy,” he said, turning to me, “when can I have them?”
Thank goodness for the optical stores that make your glasses in an hour.
And it was such a stop-in-your-tracks parenting moment. I don’t think I slept for a week, wondering how I could have missed the fact that my son was having such difficulty seeing.
Then today, I stood next to my thirty-six year old son and helped him pick out new frames.
No one knows that face better than me.
Then, last night, at the launch of my poetry book, Olivia In Five, Seven, Five; Autism In Haiku, I stood next to my soon-to-be 22-year old daughter and listened as she read her contribution to the book, a poem called “She Holds The Infinite World”, written about her experience with autism. I listened as she answered questions from the audience. She was calm, confident, well-spoken.
And I realized, standing there, that parenting is just different now. Instead of standing behind them, hoping and praying that they won’t fall, but ready to catch them when they did, I now stand beside them. Still hoping and praying, but knowing they’ll be able to pick themselves up on their own. If they need help, I’m there.
If they don’t need help, I’m still there. Standing with them.
And I have to say, I glow just as much with pride now as I did with their first words, first steps, first everythings. And second, third, fourth everythings, and on into infinity, or at least as long as I live.
Beside them. All four of them. Always.
(Know one of the things I love most about Olivia? She still calls me Mama.)
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.