A Walk in the Woods

Many long years ago, when I was struggling to raise children in their teen years, I read an article entitled A Walk in the Woods written by the grief-stricken mother of a teenaged son.  While I have never had a great memory, I’ve never forgotten her words.  The story feels as relevant today as it did when I originally read it.  It’s the age-old story of children gaining their independence and going off into the world that repeats with each generation.  The angst of the parents who remain behind is the same, as is the eagerness of the children to be let loose.woodswoods

The Story

The son of the writer had just lost his best friend, killed in a horrific traffic accident.  The friend was one of the several boys injured or killed while driving recklessly after a round of drinking.  The author’s grief was an acknowledgment that there comes a time in the raising of children when they go off our radar screens;  a time when they must take “a walk in the woods.”

It’s a time when we as parents cannot follow them, nor can we see them.  They are on their own.  All we can do is prepare them by telling them what they will need in the woods. Life survival skills. Resilience, determination, a sense of humor, creativity, trust, etc.  Then we must let go.

We must wait for them on the other side.  That can be tortuous.  Remember, cell phones won’t work.

We can take comfort while they’re out of sight that we’ve prepared them well.  But, there are no guarantees.  We must trust that the lessons we’ve taught over the years will serve them well and that they will emerge safely from the woods.  They might have a few bruises, but undoubtedly we will marvel at their maturity, their self-confidence and newly found sense of self.

In the meantime, while they’re in the woods, our jobs as parents are done.

Most likely, only for the time being!

 

An Unexpected Bonus

I experienced an unexpected bonus as a result of writing a recent post about my Mom and Dad.  I felt their presence in a new way. Somehow, writing about them brought them closer to me.  I understood that they are still with me.

Today, on Facebook, I came across this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh which expresses the same sensations I experienced in a more articulate and eloquent way.

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…The day my mother died, I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.

l opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants. and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine alone but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. These feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time…

– Thich Nhat Hanh, in “No Death, No Fear”.

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Snowflakes and Grandkids

 

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Is it too much of a stretch to compare a dancing snowflake to a child? Recently, after watching the Dance of the Snowflakes in a local production of the Nutcracker, in which two of my grandchildren performed, I found myself thinking about grandchildren and snowflakes.  Children are a little bit like snowflakes. Each one is unique.  Each one is splendid.  Each is exquisite.  There was never one exactly like them in the past and there will never be one exactly like them in the future. Childhood disappears quickly as does a snowflake.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  Remarkable!  It’s been through the blessing of grandchildren that I have truly been able to fully appreciate the miracle of childhood and the full measure of life.

Its wonderful  is to watch our grandchildren grow up. I take great pleasure in being a part of their lives.  I am in awe of the rapidity of change.

It can be challenging to raise a child.  I look back now and wonder how I did it!  Youth helped a lot.  One of the gifts of aging, if you’re lucky, is to have time for yourself.   As a grandparent, there can be an inherent conflict between your love of freedom and your grown children’s desires to have you do “grandparently” things.  Where do you draw the line between self and family obligations or family expectations as time becomes more precious?  I first asked this question as an adolescent.  I guess the balance question follows you through life, in one form or another.  We all need to find our own balance point, I think.

I was the kind of Mom who had to have my own thing going on in my life while my kids were growing up, or I’d be dealing with depression. Non stop parenting became boring and could stifle my sense of self and test my sanity.  I needed and craved an identity beyond being a parent. Interestingly, my needs are not much different now!

Just as parents come in all shapes and sizes, so do grandparents and so do families.  There’s been a lot written about misguided efforts to be “perfect” parents, but nothing I’ve come across talks about a similar drive to be the perfect grandparent.  Personally I don’t think we get to do perfection in relationships in life.  Parenthood is usually lots of trial and error.  Those challenges are lightened by an occasional acknowledgement that our efforts have paid off and we’ve helped raise a child who is a good person and will do her part to make a contribution to the world, be it large or small.  That role is not nearly as intense for grandparents, but it’s easy to feel guilty when our children or grandchildren are looking for more than we’re able or even willing to give, both physically or psychologically.  I’ve heard this from my peers and I’ve experienced it myself.

Many grandparents easily slip  into the role of default babysitter or chauffeur, which I’m sure delights their adult children and their grandchildren as well. Good for them. I knew immediately that role was not for me. I want to grandparent in a way that’s meaningful to me and not in a way that is imposed.  Scratch that sweet image of a patient, smiling cookie baker too. I feel a little badly about my lack of enthusiasm for this, but not badly enough to  get out the cookie cutters or heat up the oven.

I do relish my role as observer and facilitator. From the vantage point of advancing age, I can now see children for the miraculous beings that they are.  They learn so much so quickly.  Their bodies are in a constant state of flux.  They’re hungry for knowledge and experience.  It’s a gift to watch this being played out as they  learn to talk, walk, run, dance, read, write, draw, play a musical instrument, share, learn kindness, etc. They’re constantly seeking the balance between independence and dependence.  I want to be there for as much of it as I can.  I take pleasure in their successes and share concerns about their challenges.  I want to be able to be a meaningful influence in their lives.  I enjoy taking them places, be it travel, museums or performances.

Most of all, I want them to know how much they are loved and appreciated.  I want them to know we, who are of sound mind, want to do the best we can for them.  As parents or grandparents.  I want them to know how grateful I am to be able to see the ongoingness of life through them, to get another opportunity to revisit, with more mature eyes, the brief time that is childhood. I want to continue my own growth as I watch theirs.

Life is growing short. There’s no longer time or energy to do it all, as I could easily pretend when young or middle-aged. I  might miss some of the important moments in the lives of my grandkids while I’m off chasing a rainbow, but, I hope they know I love them with all my heart. Maybe, if we’re lucky, I’ll even be able to share a piece of the rainbow with them someday!

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