I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but please indulge me. I am having a very emotional today (No, it is not PMS.). Also, fair warning: this post is about children and g’children, so….
It seems that history is repeating itself. I am sitting here bawling my eyes out because of a feeling of inevitability and loss. I feel silly, both because it has happened before, and because, I should know better. (Later, I’ll tell you why.) I am learning that just because something is inevitable, it doesn’t mean that you still aren’t thrown off guard by its reoccurrence and that, more importantly, it doesn’t hurt any less. In fact, it seems to hurt more. I know that you are asking, “What in the hell is she talking about?,” so I’ll explain.
For a better understanding, I think that some background information might help. I have three grown children, all with children of their own. (My oldest daughter just blessed me with g’child number seven, and yes, I agree with you, I am much too young for this, but I love each of them more than I can say.) Anyway, one of my favorite times in my children’s lives was when they were little and still thought that I hung the moon. (At this point, I should say that after he was five years of age, his Dad raised, my oldest, a beautiful son, but up to that point, I experienced much of what I am talking about with him.) At that time, you are their world and they hang on to every word that you say. They look to you for answers to their every question.
I remember when my youngest daughter was about 4-5, I asked her to tell me her favorite color. She stopped to think about it and suddenly asked me, “Mom, what is your favorite color?” I told her purple and she finally responded, “Then my favorite color is purple too.” Although I tried to explain to her that just because my favorite color was purple, hers did not have to be, she was insistent that purple it was. In the very little person’s mind, the parent knows everything and is always right, which is understandable because they have little frame of reference. In my experience, the bond between mother and children is at its greatest, and the connection seemingly unbreakable.
I think back to this moment with my daughter, not because I’ve ever intended to raise little mini mes who have no mind of his or her own. No, it is because those were the moments when I felt the weight and burden of a parent’s responsibility. Parenting is a hard, and sometime thankless job, but for those who choose to do it, it is the most important, gratifying, and rewarding job that you can ever undertake. In my mind, a parent is a child’s first line of protection and in the younger years, this task is so much easier. Outside influences have yet to emerge to diminish your connection.
Of course, I wanted and encouraged my children to grow and forge their own identities, with their own likes and dislikes, feelings and opinions. In fact, sometimes, I was ridiculed for letting them express their thoughts and opinions a little too freely. (I grew up in the era when children “were seen and not heard,” and I promised myself that I would not raise any future children the same.) Until they are out there in the world, I could kid myself into thinking that I could protect them from anything.
Then, they start school and at first, their orbit still revolves around you. By kindergarten, and certainly by the first grade, that begins to change, and though you are still within that orbit, it expands to include new friends, interests and experiences. Slowly but surely, you begin to take a supporting role in their lives. They no longer depend on you to meet their every need. Of course, you stay very important (I mean, who else will take them to their play dates.), but they begin to compartmentalize their life in a way that doesn’t include you, and actively form friendships and learn ‘the art of playing well with others.’ They become influenced by people other than yourself. Naturally, you cannot, and would not want to, watch them 24/7 and must accept their need to expand their zone of comfort. They are testing their boundaries. They love you no less, but they are necessarily moving away from you to become their own person.
What can I say about the teens years except that they are often froth with struggle. I’ve been told that some parents make it through the teen years effortlessly, but I’ve never met one. In my case, those years were like a see-saw, up one day and down the next. It seemed that I could do no right, which was diametrically opposed to the younger years when I could do no wrong. Although as a parent, I could exert some control, I was not privy to all that was going on in their lives. During those years, they spent more time with friends than at home. I was never the type of parent who snooped or violated their privacy, because aside from being the typical teens, they gave me no reason to do so.
I vividly remember my oldest daughter’s last year of high school. We’ve always been close and she talked to me, shared love letters from her many admirers and we genuinely, enjoyed one another’s company–then senior year arrived. She was always an excellent student and, although she could have applied and been accepted by the top level schools, she applied to one school, the University of Texas at Austin. By her senior year, she was accepted, so we averted that potentially stressful situation.
Nevertheless, we couldn’t seem to agree on anything. If I said “up,” she said, “down. If she said, “stop,” I said “go.” Neither of us intended it to be this way, but it was. Moreover, I don’t mean to imply that there were not plenty of special and close moments between us, because there were. Still, it was a tough year. I remember one argument that ended with her saying something like “I can’t wait to leave you and get out of this house!,” and I, frustrated and hurt, retorted, “And I can’t wait for you to leave.” I never meant it for a second but our constant fighting sent me over the edge.
She accepted an invitation to go through a Summer college program and we moved her things to her dorm room, mere weeks after she graduated high school. In hindsight, I realize that a large part of our problem was her wish for freedom and independence, whereas mine involved holding on as tightly as possible and not let go. I didn’t want to lose my ‘baby.’ Of course, I didn’t lose her. Almost immediately after she moved from the house, our relationship reverted back to the close, loving one that we had always enjoyed.
So back to why I was bawling. I was under the insane delusion that having made it through my children’s rites of passage, I was prepared to deal with my g’children’s. I mean, hadn’t I learned anything from the past. I wrote this blog post earlier this year. The post was in response to this post by Christina Rosalie dealing with mothering and a loss of self. As I was well beyond those years, I reminded them that this was the beginning of their journey. Aside from agreeing with Christina that they would come through it to reclaim their sense of self, I warned that the journey was only beginning. In the interest of brevity, which is ironic given that this post seems endless, I wrote, “you will have grandchildren and the feelings and experiences that you thought behind you will resurface. It is heartening that because you’ve travelled it before, the road is easier, less frightening, but no less painful.” Well, I obviously didn’t know what the hell I was talking about because the path is no easier or less frightening. My claim that I would have all this wisdom is a load of crap.
Case in point. One of my g’daughters is almost eight years old. (She is the first of my g’daughters who has had a presence in my life when she made this transition.) Since she and her parents live in Austin, I’ve spent more time with her than with my other g’children combined. She and I have always been exceptionally close. I was the “best G’Mom in all the world” and she loved to spend time with me. Last year, when she started first grade, I noticed that we had fewer sleepovers and if we did, I initiated them. “Cuddle time,” which, in the past, she’d loved to call for, was a ritual long forgotten. The excitement that she used to display when I called, has been replaced with, “Oh, hi G’Mom,” and her busy schedule didn’t allow for much ‘G’Mom’ time.
Last night, after a month away from home, I called, excited to speak with her. I assumed that she’d be equally excited. The reaction was not as I anticipated. She heard my voice and said, in a distracted tone, “Hi, G’Mom.” I told her that I was home and that I missed her–no reaction. After she asked me to repeat what I’d said several times, I asked, “D., are you listening to me or playing the ever-present Nintendo?” She sheepishly replied that she was playing Nintendo. Suddenly, she became a bit more talkative but it was obvious that she had other things on her mind. I told her to go on and do what she needed to do. I hung up the phone and couldn’t believe how hurt that I felt, but today’s crying jag was equally surprising. I think that the feelings with D. were exacerbated because of far different circumstances with my g’son.
For almost a month, I was in LA, with B., a 3-year-old who adored Mi-Mom (From the beginning, he refused to call me G’Mom, so Mi-Mom it is.) We played silly games, laughed, and he was happy to be with me. A week before I left, he asked why I just couldn’t stay and live with them. I explained that I had a home in Texas to go back to and he replied, “But I’ll be sad and I’ll miss you.” I understood because I felt the same way. The day before I left, I’d given him a box that I no longer needed. He proceeded to fill the box with shoes, socks, underwear, clothes, pajamas, and the television remote. I was so confused so I asked him what he was doing. He responded that “he was packing so that he could go home with me.” I laughed and hugged my little guy. Yesterday, when I finally returned home, I called to say that I made it. He got on the phone and recounted how he’d gone to my room that morning and I wasn’t there and it made him sad and that he missed me. It tore at my heart.
So, two far different reactions, but also two far different circumstances. D. has graduated from her role as a baby to little girl to “big” girl. In order to do so, she must expand her ‘orbit,’ to learn about new things and meet new people. This will necessarily involve less time with G’Mom. She, too, will go through the same stages as her mother, aunt and uncle. There is nothing that any of us can do to avoid it–even G’Moms. It is a natural part of her progression toward adult. The thing is that, as with D., so goes B. It is an inevitable journey that the two must travel. Yet, they are not alone. As I wrote in the earlier post, “[you] do not need to be at the center of [their] world, to know that [you] are at the center of [their] heart.” I have no doubt where D’s heart lies and she knows that she is loved. Wherever her path leads her, she’ll always know that my heart is with her and my door is hers to open and find refuge. Perhaps, it will be easier with B. and the others, but as this situation has shown me, I doubt it.
If you’ve hung on this long, I thank you and am deeply indebted to you for listening, despite my verbosity. I definitely feel better. If you have dealt with a similar situation, I would love to hear how you handled it. I would welcome any pointers.