A Community for People Who's Children Have Outgrown Them

This is a blog for people who are reflecting on life after their children have flown the coop.

Friday, December 30, 2011

24 Hours and 24 Years

We just celebrated our 24th anniversary and spontaneously decided to escape for 24 hours.  We left midday Saturday after hearing a friend deliver a speech and returned in time to have dinner with other friends.  I would call it a conjugal sandwich, but that would get me in trouble;  so let’s say a marital adventure.  We actually reenacted something we did before kids, take a ride for a couple hours and stay in a B&B.  This was the first time we experienced this empty nester rite of passage.  When the second child left our veteran friends told us you relive your pre-child lives, this was our first real try.  Since we lived in NYC our first 18 months we periodically chose to wander out to the hinterlands.  These trips were more exploratory and offered quality time to develop our relationship.

The trip two decades later was different.  There was no agenda or itinerary.  When we would take off during our newlyweddish years we were still learning one another’s likes.  There was an unspoken concern about whether the other will enjoy this activity?  Can we antique together?  In which stores should we dawdle before boredom sets in?  Is a hike a good idea?  Where should we eat?  Now, it easily flowed.  We did her things and his things and most became our things.  We know what each other likes and tolerates. Neither was measuring if this was more what I wanted or she wanted.  The best part was there wasn’t any pressure or tension.  When the special dinner restaurant we chose ended up being disappointing in both selection and quality it didn’t both either of us.  We knew with 100% confidence it would not matter to our spouse either.  On this day in our lives we achieved real relaxation and simply enjoying being together, not worrying what we did.  We had confidence we would make the right decisions for the two of us.  We can see how far we have come in 24 years.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 -- I Lost a Child

This year's Thanksgiving started like most, Wednesday night we give a giant sigh that the week is over and we are going to begin a long, relaxing family weekend.  The next day we get up, fight about how quickly we can get out of the house and drive to Philadelphia.  Then the reality sets in, my son is celebrating his 21st birthday, the official demarcation between child and adult.  (Now an aside, what does this really mean?  He could have enlisted and voted and  been prosecuted as an adult since he turned 18.  I guess it simply means he can now consume alcohol legally.) This milestone does feel like the biggest emotional transition in my parental life.  Not that anything specifically happened like when we drove away after moving him in to college as a freshman and knew he would probably not permanently live under our roof again.  Our relationship is officially changing.

What will it mean now that he is an adult?  I am confident that he will continue to seek my advice, but might be more selective in what he accepts.  I hope that he will continue to seek my approval, but know that there is more responsibility on me to earn that privilege.  No doubt, there will be more times when he won't care if a agree.  As that occurs more often, it demonstrates the sign of passage from child to adult.  To me this is a natural stage of maturity.  The young adult successfully transitions into this stage when he make his own decisions, hopes the parents accepts it, but proceeds forward with confidence with or without their blessing.  Women talk about being friends with their daughters. I don't really see that as my relationship with him.  We have shared many good times and experiences just the two of us, and hopefully that will continue.  I don't think I will ever classify that as friends.  As he has matured intellectually I genuinely respect his opinions and solicit his thoughts.  After all, thankfully, he has learned a lot in almost four full years of college.  Here we are more peers, although I do have a few more years of learning behind me.  I am always his parent and he my son and that is the relationship.  

As I reflect back on my 30+ years of being an adult progeny of my parents, we have always shared our lives.  Over the years it has ebbed and flowed a bit, depending on life's demands, feelings of self confidence and maybe laziness or selfishness.  I am sure at times my parents wanted to know more or be more involved.  However, they respected me as an adult.  Because we live 100 miles apart, we don't see as much of one another as we would like.  The phone, email, and recently Skype make connecting easy.  We share most things, I find more good than bad, why burden them with my stuff.  Over the last bunch of years, solicitation of advice has been a two way street.  We seek out and respect one another's opinions, even when we don't always agree. The best part is that there is always unconditional love and support.  I hope the adult relationship with my son will be similar.  

I do think this birthday more than any other, including when he turned 16 and was about to drive, prompts more fear and worry than any before it.    This milestone makes it official that he is preparing to move into this next period in his life.  He will come back to visit when it is convenient, not necessarily when school is in recess.  But, he will be consumed in his professional pursuits and a social life and a community service commitment.  There simply won't be as much time.  The biggest psychological change is I won't be the provider (not that I don't welcome tuition relief).  Once he settles in and gets a job (hopefully sooner rather than later in this difficult economic climate) he will be on his own.  He will be responsible for his own existence, paying the bills and taking care of all of life's chores.  Maybe I should be thrilled that I am released of this burden.  Truthfully, it has been a part of my identity, as a married team we shared the responsibility of financially supporting our children.  (Now we get to worry about retirement.)  I, too, am entering a new stage gone is the satisfaction of being a good provider and with it brings fear of change.

The rest of Thanksgiving weekend had two other highlights.  Saturday night we threw a birthday party for our friends who knew him since he was little and about 70 of his friends.  For this birthday we didn't have to arrange for an entertainer or plan any sports activities.  All we needed was many six packs and a few long tables for beer pong.  It was great to see so many kids (now adults) who we have known since they were little.  The other treat, was that for many years, my son and I had a tradition.  Every Thanksgiving weekend we would take out the chain saw and full ax and march into the woods to collect fire wood for the winter.  I still remember the first time we did this when the full ax was taller that we was.  (his contribution was limited to kindling then.)  The week before he came home from school for the long weekend we were talking on the phone and he said, "we are going to do wood this weekend, aren't we, Dad?"  We did and he operated the chain saw.  

Happy Birthday, Son.  Here's to the next phase and starting new traditions as two adults.