The Blessing of Adult Children

I have fond memories of child-rearing. At least I think I do. I had four children in seven years. What was I thinking?

My kids were interesting exercises in self-awareness for me. For example, I confronted multiple distressing character issues while cleaning poop off the child, the crib sheets and wall at 2:30 a.m.

I trained them to sleep through the night easily, but potty training was a different story. After several attempts, I decided they were training me to put them on the potty at appropriate intervals. I didn’t see the point of putting the child on the potty until they actually made a connection. And I didn’t want pee-pee on my carpet, either. So they wore diapers until they got it.

As a wise woman once said, “I never saw a kid start school in diapers.”

They are now, at ages 28, 26, 23 and 21 — potty trained.

Hormone-laden teens...my daughters a few years ago...

Adolescence took me completely by surprise. The first one to hit this phase was female, and hysteria-ridden drama punctuated our home for years. (Two girls + five years apart = wildly fluctuating hormones and unavailable bathrooms for seven years.) I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, because by nature I am not a patient woman.

The boys shrugged their way through adolescence by becoming as invisible and silent as ghosts. A conversation with an adolescent boy goes something like this:

“Hi honey, how was school today?”

“Mmmmph.”

Goes into his bedroom and closes the door. Mom follows and tries again. Sits on the bed beside him.

She reaches out and tousles his hair fondly. Bad idea. He jerks his head away and fixes her with the evil eye. She remembers the cardinal rule of all adolescent boys, which is to not touch them. Especially in public.

My sons in their non-communicative (mostly) stage

Gamely, she continues, hands safely in her lap, “Well, how are you doing today? Got homework?”

He sighs. Looks out the window. Decides he is trapped. “Yep.” He glances at her, silently communicating his desire to be alone. His eyes are steely. His mouth is set in a firm line. She gives up and exits, mumbling something about dinner.

At least I could get the girls to talk. The boys did not give me a complete sentence for three years.

Late last summer,  Wal-Mart was crammed with stressed moms filling their carts with school supplies, and my mind jogged back in time to buying this stuff for four kids at once. I grinned as I scuttled past the three-ring binders, folders with pockets, index cards and highlighters without picking up a single item. Moms began to eye me strangely when I raised both my hands and silently mouthed “hallelujah.”

Presently my kids live on each coast and in between. Three of them are self-supporting, which is downright magical. My girls call me constantly, and their hormones have stabilized. My boys call frequently and I cannot get them to shut up.

On any given day I am invited to participate in various segments of their lives that would have been fiercely guarded a few years ago. Each of them begs us to move closer to them. I am delighted to find they paid attention, at least sometimes, to rants of mine that did, indeed, contain seeds of wisdom.

I find the whole process highly entertaining.

I now have four gifted, beautiful and adorable grandchildren.

I can’t wait to see what happens when these kids hit puberty. I will  murmur things to their parents like “I understand,” or “NO! Really? How could that happen?,” or “The school counselor said WHAT? Oh my goodness!,” and then I will snicker silently into the phone and thank God that these issues  are over for me.

Seriously.

And Then the Dogwood Bloomed

Armed with a lopper in one hand, and an axe in the other, I strode purposefully toward the part of our property where trees were being strangled by thick, snake-like vines. I informed the trees that they were about to be set free, and started hacking at every evil vine in sight.

I realized in short order that the monster vines were pretty much connected and that I needed to find the roots. This took a bit of doing, as the debris and dead limbs and weeds seemed to enjoy thwarting my forward motion. Some of the vines must have inched up the trees undisturbed for twenty years! Not being particularly well-versed in axe-dom, I yelled for my husband, who was busy doing a little hacking of his own on another part of the property. He shouldered his swing blade, and walked in my direction.

We bought our house about a year ago, and hilariously – or deviously, depending on whose point of view you agree with – we did not know we were about to buy adjoining property until we arrived at the closing table. Our house sits on approximately 2/3 of an acre that is developed, landscaped, and lovely. It is surrounded by Maryland-style split rail fencing and set back from the street, which we like. The setting is what sold my husband and me on the house, and we thought the adjoining property was an easement. A green space. We were encouraged to think along these lines by our realtor, who (we think, anyway) chose NOT to tell us that the peripheral 2/3 acre of brush-infested, uncleared, designated wetland was part of the deal.

At the closing table, which included our finance guy, our realtor, the seller’s realtor, my husband and I and various and sundry other people that I cannot remember because Maryland always overdoes everything (litigious concerns); we finally got a look at the actual survey report. Surprise! We are buying twice the property we thought! My husband and I blinked at each other rapidly, and mutually figured this must be a really good deal even though we were kept in the dark about the actual lot size. Maybe our realtor assumed we knew. Maybe we didn’t ask. Doesn’t matter.

Realtors and financiers poised to make a great deal of money are especially cheery and chatty around a closing table; and the seller’s agent – sensing the end of a long and arduous property listing – threw sensitivity to the wind, and began telling funny stories about showing the house before we came along. It seems quite a few house-lookers were not especially enthusiastic about the undeveloped property. Even less enthusiastic when he told them about the resident fox, groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits and deer that were regular inhabitants. He had initially thought these little details would endear the property to prospective homebuyers. Instead, it made them run like scalded dogs. After listing the house a year, with no qualified offers, he determined he would not tell people about the adjoining property, as it seemed to scare them off. Jim and I looked at each other and thought, what have we done? We excused ourselves for a quick conference. We emerged the owners of an acre and a half, part of which promised to be a good bit of work.

Which brings me back to the hacking part.

My husband takes the axe from my hands, and, as is typical of him, says “Watch this!” Somewhere along the way, he really had learned how to wield an axe, so I am duly impressed, and murmur complimentary wife-remarks. After a few well-placed hacks, the root is obliterated. We tug and pull and several tentacles reluctantly slither from the trees. I was amazed at how far-reaching the vines were. Many trees were near death, and I discovered a struggling dogwood beneath a maze of vines that I had never seen before. We worked all afternoon and liberated several trees. I will feel oddly elated if they thrive.

My 21-year old son, who usually avoids yard work with zealous fervor, joins my husband with no prompting for hacking and swing blade activities. I understand the lure. There is something primal and satisfying about killing an evil thing that is trying to kill a good thing. I know I am over-dramatizing here, but allow me a little creative license. There will be a point, I promise.

My son during his early burning stage.

I believe now, that to buy the house was a good, firm decision; and that the forested parcel was a blessing in disguise. To watch the progress in beating back the wilderness has surely been similar to what my forebears felt most days, which has been an interesting perspective. I have seen a side of my husband that I did not even know existed, and it has given me fresh respect for him. My son, the ultimate preppie, is turning into an axe-wielding, glove-wearing, vine-killing machine. The controlled burns my husband and son perform to get rid of the brush and dead limbs have ceased to strike terror into my soul, and I now enjoy them.

I think I am becoming a country girl, or maybe I always was. Reclaiming the land is invigorating.

It is the desecrating of the evil roots that gives me the most pleasure. Setting an axe to the root of a twenty-year old vine, especially poison ivy, makes me want to dance. Sometimes I chant to the tree, “You are free! You are free!” and yell “Mwaa…hahahaha…take THAT!” to the vines I pull off cringing, abused trees.

So here is my promised point:

My hope and prayer is to pull every evil, tentacled, snakelike vine off my soul.

Every one.

With God’s help, I do not want to leave them unattended for twenty or thirty years . I do not want the grip of bad habits, character defects, addictions, or snarled relationships to choke out my life. I refuse to be bent and helpless under their weight. I do not want evil vines to curl around my heart in deadly embrace, rendering it unrecognizable and still beneath a mountain of debris I have not swept from my life due to ignorance, lethargy or laziness. I want to pro-actively assess the damage, utilize the appropriate tool (in this case, a sword*), and obliterate evil at the root so it will never again have the power to destroy.

Our realtor probably did us a big favor by not mentioning that the green space was part of our property. It would have been a tragedy, I think, if we had decided not to buy.

Next spring, we should see new life sprout from the trees that we rescued from the vines.

I bet the dogwood blooms.

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*And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17, New American Standard Bible

The sword was an essential part of the armor of an ancient soldier. His other weapons were the bow, the spear, or the battle-axe. But, without a sword, no soldier would have regarded himself as well armed. The ancient sword was short, and usually two-edged, and resembled very much a dagger.

Of the Spirit – Which the Holy Spirit furnishes; the truth which he has revealed.

Which is the word of God – What God has spoken – his truth and promises. It was with this weapon that the Savior met the tempter (Satan) in the wilderness; Matthew 4. It is only by this that Satan can now be met. Error and falsehood will not turn aside temptation; nor can we hope for victory, unless we are armed with truth.
From Biblos.com

If I Were a Cat

If I were a cat, I’d lay slim and long in the sun all day.

I would be a medium longhair. Less furballs; but still soft and fluffy. My face would not be long and pointed, like a Siamese; or short and flat, like a Persian. Somewhere in the middle. A nice face.

And I would be beautiful. And adored.

If I were a cat, I would live inside, not outside, where terrors lurk. I would have my hiding places around the house. Up high, on shelves, or down low, under chairs. On window sills, or in closets. When the sun is just right, that perfect spot on the floor.

I would never think about my weight, or needing a facelift or a pedicure. I would never wear makeup, or stress about a haircut gone wrong. I would never have to cook, because my meals are prepared for me. I would never have to do dishes. Or laundry, because I am a cat, and enjoy a permanent wash n’ wear existence. I would never experience emotional fallout, or attend therapy or die a thousand deaths over an adult child’s decision. I am perfectly oblivious to nearly everything except whether my food bowl is full or not.

If I were a cat, I would frequently leap onto my human’s lap and gaze at him imploringly, inviting a caress. Afterwards, I would lightly jump off, brushing a leg with my tail as a flirtatious good-bye.

Affection is always on my terms, not theirs.

If I were a cat, I would slink carefully around the baseboards, sniffing out mice, or bugs; in pursuit of my instincts. Maybe…if my human was not an overly zealous housekeeper…I might find a mouse.

I would stare longingly out of the windows at birds. I would remain stock-still, waiting; then I would leap at the glass, hoping to escape the confines of the house in pursuit.  But it is only instinct that drives me. I don’t really want to eat the birds, just chase them. Shake a tail feather or two.

Sometimes I am slapped with a fuzzy, soft thing. And then I hear “NO!” I think that means to stop what I am doing. I am not sure. But I humor them, my humans. I gaze at them questioningly, and they stop waving the fuzzy thing around. But I leave the place where I was slapped, just in case. My tail twitches as I look back, cautious. It is a game. I know I can do whatever I want when they are asleep or out of the room I am in. I do not think they know that I know this.

If I were a cat, I would look forward to evening, when my humans are quiet and still and I can crawl into a lap. I would leap quietly on the couch, where they are relaxing; pad around in a circle, find my spot, and lie down, safe and warm, on legs. I can sleep there for hours, if they let me. But they eventually get up, set me carefully aside, pat my head, and pad upstairs. I cannot go with them. They shut the door to their bedroom.

I don’t mind. And I do not feel rejected. I will see them in the morning, when the sun comes up. I will stretch and yawn, and then I will run to them, because their hands and words invite me to.

I will follow them to my food bowl and mew at them if food is not present. Then, after breakfast, I will gallop back and forth in search of cat toys, and when I find them, roll over on my back and toss them in the air, which will delight my humans. They will watch and laugh and point and sometimes take pictures of me. I am perenially cute.

Sometimes, my human and I gaze at each other in a sort of enigmatic understanding; a shared delight, as we lie together, long and slim, in the sun.

Pretty soon, my human gets up, scans her to-do list for the day, sighs; and glances back at me, where I am napping quietly. I open one eye and yawn at her.

I think she would like to trade places sometimes. But I wouldn’t. I know I have a pretty sweet deal here.

And then, if I were a cat, I would go back to sleep.