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.

How to Develop Patience at Warp Speed

Patience is important.

Without it, people are unable to deal appropriately with stress, anger, heartbreak…and lots of other emotional dilemmas; for instance, running out of coffee.

For me, this valuable character trait is a work in progress. Depending on the situation, sometimes I am victoriously and wisely patient. More often than not, though, I blow it under stress.

I managed a few steps backward this weekend when my 23-year old daughter and her boyfriend came to visit. I should have suspected my patience level would be challenged when a group decision was made to travel downtown in the same car on a Saturday night. Three twenty-somethings (two of which I have birthed) and two fifty-somethings (young adult translation: old fogies) together in a car = lesson in patience.

So we toodle downtown like sardines in our small SUV, and traffic becomes tricky as we get closer to our destination, which is right on the waterfront in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area. Parking, as usual, is non-existent and we miraculously spy a huge spot recently vacated in which to parallel park, but my husband drives right by it even though as one, we are shrieking, “Park here! Park here! It’s huge! Why did you pass it? WHY?” as our heads swivel longingly toward the space.

My husband, ever-unflappable (well, sometimes he is flappable) drives steadily on murmuring something that sounds like “not big enough,” but whatever, the stress level in the car has risen several notches. It doesn’t help that we are bumping along over miles of historic cobblestone. Quaint, but troublesome when driving in a car full of frustrated young adults that are becoming more and more upset that they did not have the foresight to take a separate vehicle, thereby distancing themselves from the old fogies that do not know how to drive, nor apparently, how to park.

Suddenly, another spot looms into view, and we begin afresh our chorus. “Park here!! Right. Here. It’s right…there…what are you dooooooo-innng…?” losing heart as yet another parking space slips away. My husband, by this time, has lapsed into silence and concentrates on avoiding other cars enmeshed in similar parking quests.

My mother-heart zips into peacemaker mode, and I attempt to appease young adults while simultaneously supporting my husband, which is an exercise in futility. I typically lapse into over-the-top-controller mode when under stress, so, true to form, I rather loudly try to subdue the situation.

Which successfully added an entirely different layer of stress, and was no help at all.

I finally managed to whack the controller part of me into submission, and joined my husband in patient silence as we bumped around the block another time, narrowly missing various pedestrians. The complaining and frustration from the back seat continued. Finally my husband says, “Look, I will let you guys out to go and check out the restaurant and your mom and I will drive around and find a parking spot. Join you in front of the restaurant, okay?” Some or all made snorting noises which I translated as “WHY THE HECK DIDN”T WE TAKE OUR OWN CAR?” and they raced toward the restaurant the minute they untangled themselves from the back seat.

At just that moment, a parking space opened up in front of the restaurant. My husband yipped in delight, and I castigated myself internally for yelling at him along with the kids. He is much better at this patience thing than I am. I slipped a little lower in the seat, which I felt was appropriate, shame-based body language.

Lesson Number One in developing patience at warp speed: Keep your mouth shut when you are impatient or frustrated. You never know how things are going to turn out, and nagging, cajoling, insisting, yelling, insulting, or hurling things does no good.

Because we have inserted our car into a premium parking space, my mood is vastly improved, and I resist lecturing the young adults, because, after all, I was stressing out right along with them. So I was quiet, but tentatively hopeful the evening would be salvaged.

The young adults, who have barely noticed that we now have a premium parking spot, fight their way through hordes of people on the sidewalk to tell us the restaurant we chose is completely booked by a private party and not available even though we called ahead to check.

This starts a brand-new round of young adult frustration that entails different verbiage but is equally as annoying. My husband and I glance at each other, the unspoken question hanging in the air between us: “Do these kids not realize we are paying for their dinner and they need to…maybe…be appreciative instead of complaining?” We disguise this mutual thought with laughter, ha ha ha, and clasp hands and navigate the cobblestone on foot to check out the other 162 restaurants in the area.

By this time, one of the young adults is so upset, I hear her say that she must drop back behind the group as she cannot stand the chaos anymore and needs some distance from the stress.

I am heartily in agreement with her decision, as the old fogies could use some distance as well. We trudge merrily on, ignoring the young adults, because we had been young adults at one time too and knew their moods would brighten. Eventually. But still, my husband and I were wondering things like: would the five of us survive the evening, relationships intact? Would we find a decent restaurant that had seating? Would the kids like the food? If not, would there be more frustration and complaining and shrieking? Would the kids disappear into the night with the street musicians rather than ride home with old fogies? Could they possibly be content, and perhaps even…pleasant… during dinner? And exactly what was our original motivation for this activity again…?

Oh yes. I remember. Family bonding.

Lesson Number Two in developing patience at warp speed: Keep the goal in mind instead of the frustrating and sometimes ridiculous circumstances involved in getting there. Utilize these words while under stress: it will be worth it. It will be worth it. It will be worth it. Try to unclench your teeth.

After a briskly cold walk around the area in search of appropriate restaurants, my husband darts into a narrow door, chats quietly with the bartender and returns with information about a different place, and waves his arm in the general direction. The young adults cross their arms over their chests, throw a ‘this is ridiculous’ look at each other, and reluctantly follow. I am smiling to myself, because I know my husband is the ultimate problem-solver, and if anyone can find a great restaurant in the midst of a raucous crowd, he can.

And he does. Not only did this place have great food and atmosphere, there was an incredible view of the Harbor. A few smiles appear on the kids’ faces. Murmuring dwindles into nothingness.

Lesson Number Three in developing patience at warp speed: If you don’t keep your mouth shut when frustrated you will probably say things you regret, which will be embarrassing and you may have to apologize to a bunch of people afterward.

So I guess the moral of the story is this: to develop patience at warp speed, pack a small car with several of your grown children and head to the tourist district in an incredibly busy city; then drive frantically over cobblestone streets and pass up several perfectly good parking spots before arrival at a restaurant where seating is unavailable. To add to the learning curve, you might circle the block several times, nearly mowing down pedestrians at each corner.

Or not.

I think in the future I will allow my patience to develop a little more slowly.

Swan Song Ruffles Feathers

My sweet daughter in the "bachelorette party saddle" at a restaurant

What has a plunging neckline, shoulder-dangling earrings, skin-tight jeans, French-manicured fingers and toes; a cocktail in one hand and a karaoke songbook in the other?

Answer: my oldest daughter at her bachelorette party the night before her wedding.

I was honored to be included among my daughter’s best friends as she enjoyed her final swan song as a single. I am completely out of touch with the twenty-something bar scene, and for that I am grateful. It seems to include a little too much flesh on display, which is alternately covered with tattoos or jewelry.

No bachelorette party these days is complete without karaoke, I was informed. My daughter is an amazing vocalist, and as I watched her perform I was very proud. I screamed my guts out and applauded wildly along with the rest of the gang.

I had mixed feelings as I watched her kick back a celebratory shot of something brown with whipped cream — I am out of touch with what young people kick back these days. My daughter doesn’t drink much — a little wine — but that night, people were buying her drinks all around and I watched an interesting assortment of pink, fruity, fluffy stuff pass her lips. We all yelled and toasted each other repeatedly.

It was interesting for me to watch her against this backdrop, my mom-mode switch in neutral. This was a young and confident adult, celebrating her upcoming wedding with other young and confident adults. I did my best to ignore the cigarette smoke, thumping music, tattoos, body piercings and ridiculously short skirts that populated the bar.

In my ‘disco queen’ days, we smoked cigarettes, listened to thumping music, wore ridiculously short skirts and pierced our ears. I sense some similarities here.

Fortunately, I have outgrown this stage. Now I listen to calmer music and wear a lot of plaid capris. I don’t smoke or tattoo anything. My skirts are a sensible length.

It feels strange to be on the outside looking in – a student of my daughter’s generation. I observe her healthy, robust interaction with her friends, all of whom seem to respect and delight in her. I resist my desire to rush over to her décolletage and jerk up her neckline to a more modest level. We are on her turf, not mine. There are lines that mothers should not cross.

She introduces me proudly to everyone, and I push aside the nagging feeling that I do not belong, because in truth, I do belong.

I was invited. She is my daughter, and I am celebrating this milestone with her. So what if everyone is a good 30 years younger than me? I look okay when the lights are down low.

My two daughters during the party after throwing strange-looking beverages down their throats...

My other daughter, barely 21, arrives at the party after her work shift ends. She slices her eyes toward me as she takes deep drags from her cigarette and hoists a brew.

She grins, daring me to comment. I am outnumbered. I feel the torch being ripped from my stiff, unyielding fingers, and I don’t know if I like it.

This whole mother-of-the-bride thing is confusing. On one hand, I am delighted. On the other, I am depressed. I have no control whatsoever in this situation. I peer through the smoke-induced haze, wondering how they can breathe, let alone enjoy a conversation. When the group moved to the next agenda item, I begged a ride home and left early.

I was not overly interested in watching my daughter ride a bull.

The wedding was on the beach the following day at sunset; lovely and romantic. I’m transitioning from mother-of-the-bride to eventual mother-of-the-next-bride, where I plan to be better prepared emotionally to deal with flashbacks of adorable little girls, first dates, volleyball games, prom dresses and graduations superimposed over chortling, wild-eyed, microphone-wielding karaoke and bull-riding enthusiasts with French manicures.

Isn’t there a rule somewhere that mothers should gracefully decline an invitation to their daughters’ bachelorette parties?

 

This article first published in the Capital Journal, Pierre, SD, November, 2009