Time Passages

Connor’s getting his first teeth! Both of his lower central teeth are starting to show, and you can easily feel them with your finger…

This was on my son’s Facebook page last night, and I when I read it aloud to my husband we both made the appropriate “awww…” sound followed by a deep sigh.

“The next post will read ‘Connor’s getting his driver’s license,’” I said wryly, “and then ‘Connor’s graduating from college,’ and then ‘Connor’s getting married…’”.

Yep, time does fly, and although it never seems like it when you’re knee deep in diapers it really is only an eyeblink before children are no longer children, but adults and off living in some ridiculous place like Dallas, Texas. (Or Burlington, Vermont, or Los Angeles, California, or Seattle, Washington – parents of these, you know who you are.)

I have to admit, I’m not enjoying this long-distance grandparenting thing. Whenever we’re lucky enough to get a new video, I watch it over and over until the iPad battery runs dry. When new photos pop up on Facebook, you’re liable to see me carrying the iPad around the house, clutching the image to my heart.

And yes, I have been known to kiss the screen.

As much as I love watching this adorable little guy growing up, it makes my heart ache that I’m not able to see it up close and personal. I imagine when I look back on it years from now, when Connor has in fact graduated from college and gotten married, I will count it as one of the biggest mistakes regrets of my life – that somehow I didn’t find a way to be closer to him.

People tell me you can’t follow your children all over the place, and experience has proven this to be true. (Case in point – our lovely little plan for a Florida retirement with our family just down the road.) I suppose we could pick up and move to Texas, that maybe my husband and I could find work there to sustain us for the next few years until pensions and 401k’s kick in. But our son is young and life is unpredictable – he could very well find other opportunities elsewhere, in any part of the world, and there we would be once again.

Psychologist Eric Erikson talks about developmental stages we must successfully pass through in order to live a fulfilled and happy life. During middle adulthood (ages 35-65) he believes we must be concerned with “generativity,” which comes through caring for others and producing something for the betterment of society. Family and work, then, in somewhat equal measure, are the tasks to navigate in these years.

But as we get closer to the end of this stage, our relationships and activities change – children leave home, careers wind down, and it becomes more difficult to find meaning and purpose. Failure to successfully navigate this stage leads to “self-absorption and stagnation.”

That sure doesn’t sound pretty to me, but I can see how it could happen.

Most of the women in my family have spent the waning years of their middle adulthood helping to raise their grandchildren. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and many of my aunts, have all been lucky enough to have a least some of their children nearby. I know that’s not the norm, especially in the 21st century, but I wish it were.

Being around children is one of the most “generative” activities I know of – what else is more reflective of “caring for others and producing something for the betterment of society”? It’s a sure and certain remedy for self-absorption and stagnation, and one of the best ways I can imagine to navigate this passage of life.

I only wish it were available to me.

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9 thoughts on “Time Passages

  1. I love this post. I’m not where you are, but I think about it a lot. I try to slurp up every ounce of Cate’s smiles. I’m here, right in front of her, and it moves too quickly. My heart aches when Dillon’s teacher counts down til the end of kindergarten. Sometimes I can’t even fathom the day when they don’t live under my roof. I just ordered Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake and plan to blog about it next week. I think she puts a much more positive spin on this! 🙂 From the interviews I’ve seen, I don’t think self-absorption and stagnation are in her vocabulary.

      • Anna Quindlen has been my go-to person for thoughts on “life in general” since the 1980’s. Her original column, Living Out Loud is what inspired my blog! Needless to say, I can’t wait to read this new book. She and I are usually on the same page in many ways!

        Enjoy all those precious moments with your cuties!

  2. Interesting comments relative to Erickson and his middle adulthood assessment. I think that it is fairly accurate that we do seem to strike a balance between work and family in our early middle adulthood and when the kids are gone, there is often a difficulty to focus and find other worthwhile challenges. I think that the last 13 years that I have been in Charleston has focused me on finding things to do in the community in volunteering and being involved in a much bigger community like Rotary. I miss seeing my daughter who lives in Ohio, but, she is grown with no kids so I don’t have a grandchild to think about. I do hope you find a way to see Connor more often.

    • It’s crucial to find good ways to use your time and talents, especially in our “late middle years.” Keeps us healthy emotionally and physically, I think.

  3. I think that’s true – that as we age, we need children in our lives. It is a “generative activity”, and one that blessedly is available even to those of us who don’t have children of our own. Maybe there would be a way for you to use your talents in the service of all those mothering and grandmothering impulses that are surging through you. I can just see you doing a little music work with kids, for example.

    No, it wouldn’t be Connor – but it might be a whole lot of fun, and which of us doesn’t need more of that in our life?!?

  4. Dear Becca, your last line touches my heart. I find myself just a few years behind you. As my boy is 21…on the cusp of being independent of me. I worry about falling into stagnation, I worry about isolation from him when I know that the best thing for him is to be independent if me. How is it that we’re supposed to care for their every need then give it all up two decades later? We’ll always care We’ll always want to be there. I guess we’ll have to be content with being there in spirit.

    • I had finally adjusted to the idea of my son living far away, and then along came Connor…oh my. How I want to watch him grow up, day by day!

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