Aging is a natural process. Everything we do and everyone we lose adds moments to that process. Getting married, watching our children grow, losing our parents. We can’t stop it, it’s inevitable.
I remember crying one day when I was pregnant with my oldest son–16 years ago. I told my husband that I did not want to have children because their mere presence in my life would age me. I thought that by focusing on my child’s developmental growth, I would lose track of the years and my life would fall by the wayside. A lot of my panic at the time was the hormonal mood-swings of pregnancy but there was a bit of truth to it as well. Obviously I grew older as my children did and yes I lost myself waiting for them to walk, and talk, and ride a bike, but it was gradual enough and I was busy enough for years so that I didn’t notice. It’s only now, looking back at pictures do I see how youthful I was back then and I can compare it to where I am now. Older, yes, wiser, definitely. They do not exist independently.
With my children out of the baby stage there are now other reminders of my own aging. Two years ago the death of my own mother and last month with the passing of my Mother-in-law, Virginia. Virginia was an incredible grandmother, no better could you hope for, she remembered their favorite candy every visit, she knew about sports and how to engage a teenage boy and of course was very gentle without being condescending to my daughter. She was a beautiful woman through and through.
Although I have only had one Mother-in-Law I am pretty sure I lucked out in that department. She was caring without being intrusive; she somehow found a way to let her opinion be known in such a way that was acceptable, and she was usually quite right in her perceptions. I am sure she held her tongue far more than she let it wag and when my sons get married I can only hope to follow her lead. And although I didn’t have the kind of relationship with her that boasted of daily phone chats, I knew she always understood me and I certainly knew she always had my back in any conversation that may have led to disparaging remarks about her daughter-in-law.
And now she is gone. My children are grandparent-less–which I don’t think of as devastating since I lived my entire life, grandparent-less. I feel that they are indeed lucky to have had any grandparents at all, but to them it is a horrible fact that they throw onto the table at various times.
When my kids say, “I have no grandparents, now”, I am instantly transported to a recurring conversation I used to have with my own Dad sitting at the kitchen table;
“I am an orphan, you know,” he would say.
“No you’re not, Dad, you had parents at one point.”
“Doesn’t matter, they are both gone, and now I am an orphan.”
Well, I guess I must be an orphan now, too, which really sucks because the word itself conjures a sense of being alone and on your own in a big scary world. That’s exactly what happens when both of your parents are gone. You are in a sense alone in a big scary world. There is no one to call when you are not quite sure how to handle a teenager with a new license, or a middle child’s insecurity, or God help me a pre-teen girl and all her dilemmas. The generational layer that laid above me, protecting me with their knowledge and wisdom has been ripped away. There is no hierarchy, anymore, they have moved on. Now it is up to me.
Had I been a little more organized I would have thought ahead. I should have made a giant list, as long as Santa’s, with questions to ask my parents and in-laws. Questions regarding future years, about when my daughter reaches puberty and my sons get married. There are questions about my own childhood that I never asked–like ‘did you hate me when I was a teenager?’ Or everyday questions like how Virginia made that amazing roasted lamb or what it feels like to turn 50. I would have kept this list in my desk drawer, categorized like an encyclopedia, referencing it daily. Since I was not that organized, my only hope is to try to remember the wisdom the previous generation has instilled in me and try to recall as many facts and advice that I can. I will encourage my children to start a list, to ask me as many questions as they can and write them down–questions for me, their protective layer.