I’m on vacation! I spent several days in Asheville with my son and his family, and an overnight with a friend in the red and yellow mountains a spit from the Virginia border. Now I’m in Raleigh, sitting at my favorite corner table at my favorite cafe in my favorite shopping center. The same regulars are here who were here when I was a regular, more than two years ago. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. Tonight I will sit around a fire with dear friends whom I miss so much.
On my many hours of driving across North Carolina, I’ve been listening to a recorded book: The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir, by Katrina Kenison, about the last years of her children’s childhood before they left the nest she had feathered for them. It’s had me in tears of nostalgia and regret and awareness of the passages in our all our lives.
As I listened to her words about her eldest son’s final year of high school, I realized I didn’t have that time with my oldest child. Because of the Divorce. The event that divided our lives into before and after, that altered what we all thought would be. I didn’t know him during those years he lived with his father and we allowed a chasm to open between us even wider than the normal mother and adolescent son gulf. They would have been some of the hardest years of my life, but I didn’t mean to miss them.
I wept for the memories of my son’s childhood, when we whizzed down roads on my bicycle, flew a kite at the park, made cookies, snuggled in his bed to read books. Those days when he thought I hung the moon. Did I take note of those halcyon moments as we lived them? Do we ever? Or are we so busy living the days we miss the minutes; and we don’t consider the fact that we don’t get them back, the next passage is right around the corner?
We rarely see each other now, living on opposite sides of the country. The betrayal of divorce still stands silently between us all these years and passages later; and we let it be there unresolved because we are so much the same: not wanting to open the box. Someday I hope he or I might find the courage to break the silence about that passage in our lives that none of us predicted or would have wished for.
He has an eight-year-old son now who is more than half way to those adolescent years when everything changes. When children begin to separate from parents, as they all must but have little clue how to do it. When parents begin stumbling as they navigate the suddenly rocky terrain and fear becomes a constant companion. I don’t know how or when it happened that I became old enough to make the passage into grandparenthood, but as I spent time with my two oldest grandsons this week, observing, I was aware of the perspective. I wished to be closer to my son and daughter-in-law; to be the mother asked for advice; to feel I could speak without being interfering. What a grand thing it is to be a grandparent, and how frustrating. I see the children who want to “do it myself”; the adolescent who shuts out parents and their wisdom; the young parent who thinks to ask a parent’s advice is to admit defeat; the daughter who knows her way is always better than her elderly mother’s way; the elderly mother who is sure her adult daughter’s way is inferior. We are a stubborn breed.
Back at home, my youngest grandchild is on a fast track to the first separation from parents. He no longer needs his mothers’ legs and arms to get him some of the places he needs to go. In a few seconds he will be doing math homework—possibly struggling—and writing spelling words, as the eight year old was this week. Before she knows it, the pig-tailed four year old who still frequently inhabits my dreams, will be watching her first child blast into adolescence.
Next week I will return to the passage my mother is making across the mine field of old age. And I will be beside her, trying to do more than just get through the days. These are hard times, but I don’t want to miss them. Now is a time I will look back on, as someday I make the same passage, and ask myself where the time went, did I do the best I could, did I make a difference? I have vowed before—years ago as I sat at this same cafe table—to notice my life as I’m living it. It’s easy to forget. It’s easier just to look ahead to what I hope will be a better time, and just get through the present. That day will come, no faster nor slower because I wish for it to hurry up.
This day will not repeat itself. Someday before I know it, there will be no more days to walk with my mother through her passage or to marvel at the brilliance of my young grandsons or to forge relationships with my adult children. But for now there is today.
Pay attention, beloved children; marvel at each day. The time will not slow down, but as it races ahead at breakneck speed, at least you will know it was noticed.