Saturday, August 29, 2015
I Did The Math
It was summer. We were in the dining area of my apartment. Jeremy was at work. I was giving my children breakfast.
Hannah was a curly haired three and a half year old. Noah was almost 18 months and seated in his high chair. Jacob was dead, but I always knew how old he was. Five and a half.
I was coaxing food into Hannah while trying to keep up with Noah's appetite. This was hard. He could feed himself but sometimes became frustrated because he was so hungry. I helped him with that.
A random idea popped into my head. This is nothing unusual. I ran with it at the same time I continued the breakfast activities.
Previously, I seemed to exist on two different planes with my children. One was that their childhood stretched long and expansive for as long as the eye could see. The time that they would not be children anymore was too distant and abstract to contemplate.
Also small children keep you very busy, so maybe I didn't have the bandwidth.
This stood in stark contrast to another scenario. That story involved one or both of the children dying, Jeremy dying or myself dying. There was not a day that went by without my being fearful of one nuclear family member or another dying. When I wasn't experiencing my children's childhood as infinite in its scope, I was thinking of it being cut down by tragedy.
Sometimes one of us got sick. Sometimes one or more of us needed a check up.
Going to the pediatrician and the internist helped. It took a number of sick visits and well visits and sick visits that were actually well visits and well visits that turned out to be sick visits for me to stop thinking about tragedy all of the time.
That morning for whatever reason, a third line of thought emerged,
It is commonly understood that typical children live with you full time until they go to college. They go away to college then they are back and forth for a while. Then eventually they live on their own full time.
This can unfold differently. Some kids live with you longer. Some kids live with you while they go to college. Sometimes something not exactly tragic but unexpected unfolds where the usual course of things gets delayed.
There are a lot of possibilities. But for the sake of simplicity, I really focused on the high school, college, then independence story, taking place more or less chronologically and in a classic fashion.
That's where the numbers came in.
I am a person who claims to be bad at math. It is true that I am not good at math. But there are times when math and numbers are my friends. This was one of those times.
It is difficult to figure out exactly where childhood ends and adulthood begins. It's more of a gradual thing. However, for my calculations I decided to round it off to age 20.
Using this method, I added up the years I would be involved in intensive mothering. I started in 1996 because that is when I became pregnant with Jacob. Even as a fetus, he was under my care and he made himself known at that time.
Noah, my youngest would be 20 in 2020. 24 years of my life would be spent in the high involvement parenting stage of life.
I began my parenting journey at age 33. When Noah reached 20, I would be 57 years old.
Using math to further advantage I then figured that the average lifespan for a woman who was not felled in her prime by tragic circumstances was around 80 years old.
This was significant.
What this math showed me was that statistically speaking, I would have at least as many, if not more years relating to my children after they reached adulthood than I would while they were children.
As I finished the breakfast part of the day and commenced the bathroom negotiations with Hannah and the diaper changing of Noah, I gave this matter some further thought.
My first response was that of poignance and a bit of shock. Childhood was finite.
Moving on from something I couldn't and shouldn't do anything about - growth and the clock and maturity being good things - my thinking went to a different area.
That area was of Hannah and Noah as adult children.
Doing my math seemed to open the floodgates of opportunity. I imagined going on adult family outings, where we would meet at some agreed upon place - Tuscany? Santa Fe?
I imagined Hannah having a baby someday and me visiting to help her. Maybe she would live close by and I could go back and forth. But I did see myself getting on a plane close to her due date.
Mixed with graduations, grandchildren and trips were more everyday moments. Brunch. Babysitting. Watching TV.
Because this period of time with my children as adults had the potential to be long and important, I figured some advanced planning was in order.
In a nutshell, my children were required to have a relationship with me now. I was their mother. They depended on me. However, there would come a time when this was no longer true.
If I wanted to be the kind of mother whose adult children and their significant others wanted to have brunch with, then I'd best be thinking of that now.
I was already gobbling up parenting books, parenting magazines and parenting resources. I was reading to my children. I was not practicing corporal punishment. I was speaking with them in respectful tones - most of the time.
Imagining the children as adults lent a little more pizazz to what I was already doing. Asking them questions about themselves, being patient and open and helping them see me as a person they could trust was something that was feeding a relationship that would hopefully last a long time.
If I wanted to be in my adult child's inner circle during a crises, then I'd better remain calm during their emergencies now.
If I wanted them to confide in me, then I should give them my full attention when they spoke to me now. However halting, however garbled, however repetitive.
If I wanted them to talk with me when they were older, then being judge-y with them now would be a mistake.
If I didn't want to become one of those cliched, terrible mother in laws, then I should choose my battles and not nit pick the mismatched clothes or the Spiderman costume my son wanted to wear.
If I wanted to be a mother who could remember what it was like to be 25, then I should dig deep and think about how I felt as a preschooler, even if I could only remember a little.
There are fleeting thoughts that last a moment and then they are gone. This thinking never stopped once it got started.
In retrospect, I've recognized how important that random thinking on that ordinary day was.
For one thing, the train of thought and the math I did was beyond the present. I'd been mostly living one day at a time. The forward motion of my thoughts had hope for the future. I was making slow progress beyond the black and white tragedy vs. fairytale thinking.
The adding up, the numbers, the making sense of them meant that I wouldn't be blindsided. I wouldn't wake up one day at age 50 and say holy shit! I have adolescents! This gig is almost over!
Or worse, bemoan the milestones and become a major drag remembering the simpler times when really I should be appreciative of every age and stage. I wouldn't be the sad sack sniffling at the birthday party.
Eventually, I started thinking more deeply about the quality of my relationships with my adult children. There are no guarantees. But there are plans we can make anyway.
One of my goals is to not just be a 70 year old with adult children but a healthy and vital one. I don't picture marathons. But I do imagine getting down on the rug to play with small children and then getting up again. I imagine hikes. I imagine a jaunty step through airports and a sharp mind.
If I get cancer or some other disease I want to be able to take it on.
So when it's hard to resist a second slice of cake or do the yoga or jogging I think about it. Then I think about it some more.
There's this saying. I thought it was interesting the first time I heard it but by now 'm kind of sick of it. The days are long, the years are short. The days can be long, God knows. Some of them have been real doozies.
For me the days are long and the years are long. I mean that in the best possible way.
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