We had lunch with a 4-year-old and her mother the other day. I was reminded, yet again, that I live in an After 50 paradox. I still miss the kids in very small but important ways almost every day. Yet, I am so glad they are grown up and living their own lives.
This particular 4-year-old is very bright, articulate, and energetic. She knows all of her please’s and thank you’s. Her culinary palate is broad. She is comfortable and able with people of all ages. A very social being, she asks great questions and sees details I have long since stopped noticing. She will start kindergarten next year. Her attention span is short, although her memory is not when she wants something and isn’t getting it pronto. Our lunch conversation with her mother was a kind of staccato-like series of telegraphic messages. We had a really good time.
Let’s face it. I am out of practice. There was a time when my boys were young that I could carry on three conversations (one with the kid, one with other alleged grown up’s at the table, and one with the waitress) at once without missing a beat or even giving it all a second thought. It was a way of life. I loved almost every moment of it. And I still think being a grown up is an intermittent concept dreamed up by taller people to control much shorter ones, kind of like a fire fly’s light that flickers on and off.
It seems to me that being After 50 often comes with prices, one of which is no longer regularly being with multiple generations. It’s really easy to fall into the After 50 affinity group trap, suddenly and primarily seeing people your own age with whom you agree about most things.
Not so long ago I rode my bike to a basketball game intending to cheer on a 6-year-old neighbor. He and his parents are friends of ours. It was an indoor, half-court contest at the YMCA. The 6-year-old boys on both teams worked hard and took it all seriously. Approaching half-time two of the players on the court had a major collision. The dad-coach was alert enough to pull them briefly out of the game and put in substitutes. I watched as one of those boys, fighting tears, walked over to his father at the sidelines. They never looked at each other nor did they say a word. Each simply and gracefully leaned toward the other until you couldn’t see daylight between them. I was immediately reduced to tears. It took me longer to get over my tears than it did for the player to be rapidly back to normal and ready to reenter the game.
My tears made perfect sense. I once again missed those unplanned lightning-like moments of tactile, spoken and unspoken parent/kid intimacy with my boys when they were still considerably shorter than I am. I have a container in my mind where I store memories of those moments. All these years later, I can forget to open the container and enjoy the contents occasionally.
That basketball game reminded me of the container and its rich contents. So did our lunch with the 4-year-old and her mother. They also reminded me that I’m not who I was then and my boys aren’t who they were then either. Memories are great but not greater than who we have all become and our current opportunities to be together in meaningful ways. I’ve had to remember this as my grandchildren are growing up. It’s easy to be in romantic love with being a doting grandparent and lose track of the fact that I need my own life as the kids and grandkids need their own, too. I can provide some frosting but they have to be their own cakes.
This, in my view, is a real challenge for many of us After 50. We are going to live longer and we won’t be able to rely long term on having parented or grandparented well as a primary source of our identity and personal validity. Those kids and grandkids will grow up, as they should, and we’ll need to be our own cake. They can be the frosting.
I miss my kids regularly in small, surprising ways. I’m so happy for them and for me that they are out there living full lives of their own. It may be a paradox but it’s supposed to be.
What are your treasured memories of those special, brief moments of connection with your kids and grandkids? Let me know and I’ll weave them into a blog that follows up on this one.