Our Children’s Minister, Susan, has a young daughter and, as you might imagine, her daughter’s life and developments have become part of Susan’s weekly newsletter to parents of children in our church. In the most recent news, Susan writes: “I have learned that perhaps there is nothing cuter than watching a 19-month-old toddler experience ocean waves & sand in her toes for what-might-as-well-be-the-first time!”
This observation triggered my memory of a story about Journey that I have shared before, but bears repeating. This was written on June 12, 2001 when Journey was almost 13 months old:
“There are certain magical moments you can only experience if you are in the presence of a very young child or infant. One such experience happened to me this morning…
“Journey and I took Emily to swim team practice in the rain. Journey has always loved water in all its forms — baths, faucets, dog bowls, pools, puddles, etc. I imagine that because her birthmother lived by the ocean and often went there for its calming presence that Journey has a natural affinity for or attraction to water. In any event, as we waited for Emily, Journey left the protection of the covered picnic area to venture into the rain. For many minutes she stood and watched as the rain soaked her. Then she began to reach out her hands and grasp at the raindrops, trying to pull them to her. She moved around the pool deck, carefully reaching out to grab the gently falling rain. Can you see it?”
I couldn’t find a picture in my photo albums of this particular event. But I found another picture of Journey around the same time. Here she is running toward the ocean at St. Simon’s Island. Her body language says it all. Her shoulders are up in anticipation of the cold, but the delight shows on her face.
If you know Journey, it’s hard to imagine she spent close to 18 months with very little hair. Now, she has so much of it. In this recent picture from Disney World, it is confined in a braid.
Managing her hair is a constant focus for Journey these days. She is not particularly vain. But she is a female, and hair matters.
When the kids were young, I could write about their interests, their behavior, what they ate or refused to eat, sleep patterns – virtually anything. Somehow, all of this material seemed to belong to me as well as to them. But now that the kids are older, I am less sure of my “rights” to their life material. Even writing about Journey’s hair woes seems to border on intrusion into her privacy.
Perhaps, when the kids were younger, I imagined their perspective merged with mine. Or, perhaps, I imagined they lacked perspective and therefore needed me to give one and to record their comings and goings for future reference. But it is clear NOW that each child has his/her own take on what happens to him/her. And their perspectives don’t always match mine. Writing about my child’s temper tantrum at age 4 is “safe.” Writing about my child’s temper tantrum at age 14 holds the potential of embarrassing my kid and straining my already tenuous relationship with him/her.
I also liked to think, when my kids were younger, that I had some control over their behavior. As parents of young children, we attempt to steer our kids away from predictable storms and onto new courses. That ability to control, if it ever really existed, lessens as they grow older.
But the hardest change as children mature, in my experience, is that I can no longer count on their unconditional love. Those little “I hate you!”s when they were young were pin pricks and not the end of story. Minutes later, they would need my comfort or care, and all would be forgotten. And I knew that. Now, the “I hate you!”s are thrown as boulders, building walls to keep me out, if they so choose.
Walls going up and loss of parental control are happening at the precise time my kids are experiencing life-changing moments and decisions about: whether or not to have sex, whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, whether or not to drink alcohol or use drugs, whether or not to stay in school, whether or not to lie if lying brings immediate gratification, whether or not to utilize counseling when grief and pain have invaded their lives, and so forth.
And here is the kicker: At the same time my older children are undergoing all of these pivotal moments/decisions, I am experiencing my own life change. Where once I was absorbed in parenting – like it or not – I am beginning to see the time of my essentialness coming to an end, and must ask the question: What is next for me? If one has not maintained a professional role and competence during the tenure of one’s child-rearing – as I have not – the road to “competent again” looks mighty long, steep, and riddled with obstacles.
When I took Emily out to California in the spring for her Leapyear interview, I found myself wishing they had a program for me. A year of self-discovery is exactly what I long for. What is my passion or purpose? What more learning must I do before I even attempt paid employment again?
So many thoughts are running through my head:
It’s time to reinvent myself. I need to discover my purpose and set professional goals. But how?
My children don’t need me, except sometimes they do. I need to be available when I’m needed, but know when to back off when I’m not.
My parents are aging. They don’t need my help now, but they will. I need to keep myself open to providing that care when the time comes.
After almost 25 years of marriage, I still need to tend to that relationship as John and I grow and change.
And these are some of he doubts that enter into the equation:
I’m not as smart as I used to be. What if I can’t learn new things?
I’m not as strong as I used to be. What if I don’t have the energy?
And then I think about my mother who reinvented herself after raising four kids. She started slowly, with skills she already possessed and cultivated during her parenting years, and she kept moving up the chain of competence and professionalism until she was an essential part of her company. Or, I think of my friend, David, with whom I recently visited. We attended theology school together. He went on to be a minister, but then experienced a great deal of tumult in his twenties and resigned (or was forced out of) ministry. But that didn’t stop him. He clawed his way back, working multiple jobs to pay the bills, never doubting his worth. He has now been teaching high school engineering for 22 years.
Maybe it is all about perspective. I look at that picture of Journey with her shoulders hunched, knowing the cold is coming, but she moves forward anyway. Her face shines with anticipation of the delight that will overpower the cold.
There is no denying the weight of the issues in teenage and young adult years, my loss of control, the walls built to keep my out, the squeeze as part of my middle generation status, or the long road to regaining professional competence. But, so long as I take good care of my physical and mental health needs, I can control my own perspective. I can hunch my shoulders and run into the brisk water with a smile on my face.