I snapped a picture in front of the fire place. Their faces shining with life and friendship. Ten years ago, we snapped a picture of them beaming in their caps and gowns as they prepared to march to Pomp and Circumstance. They are older now. One with babies, a husband, and the other with a couple of degrees. Both of them hold wisdom gained from walking out their paths. Their lives couldn’t be more different, but they hold on to one another. I love that.
I look at these two young women, heading to their ten-year class reunion and I can’t believe we are here. Yesterday, there were throngs of kids laughing and crying around my kitchen table. They ran up the stairs, and down the stairs. They cleaned out my fridge and played DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) until the wee hours of the morning. They traded boys like baseball cards, learned to drive, and found their first jobs. They stood together and fell apart.
But in these after years, the years after I thought we were done parenting, we have found that our roles are different but much more involved than we imagined. We are still in their corner. Trying to offer wisdom and perspective earned through our own trials. We’ve learned about how the world works, and refuses to bend to our desires. We’ve learned about ourselves and the ways we fail and fall, help and heal, and find our way forward. There are things about their lives we know nothing about, but we do know them. These adults we’ve raised. We offer what we know, offer to be a sounding board, and offer them space to grow.
Sometimes, they accept our wisdom. Listening intently, resonating with a story or word of encouragement. We see them open their lives to us and allow us to offer something now.
Sometimes, they hear the words but are not yet able to apply it to their own lives. They are dancing to their own drummer, and our words hold little meaning now.
Sometimes, they think they know better… And maybe they do.
This dance with adult children is un-choreographed. In the beginning of their adult years, we swooped in at every chance. Trying to help, to teach, to provide guidance. Soon, we learned that this undermined their confidence and threatened their own ability to make decisions and move on. We are learning, still, to hold our tongues. To trust them to their paths. To have confidence in them when life is hard and the way seems unsure. It is harder than I ever imagined.
The process of leaving home, of making a beginning has not been easy for us. Letting go, releasing those we love, and giving them room to grow has torn at our hearts and lives. There have been dark days and very long nights when fear and anger blocked out hope. We were hurt and we hurt them. Letting go has often felt like an amputation rather than a simple setting down. And yet, we lived. We continue to live and grow through the pain and loss, the growth and conflict. Life moves on.
I have often said, this has been the hardest part of raising children. Hands down, the hardest. Sometimes I wonder if it is because this process seems to be left out. No one tells you that the after years will take your breath away. Maybe it doesn’t for everyone… but it did for me, for us. It seems that the baby years, the childhood years, and the teen years have their own predictable soundtrack. Life comes along in more or less similar ways. But these after years are unpredictable, a bit chaotic, and wholly unscripted. As the world opens up for our adults, the possibilities seem endless. And their response to all of those choices can overwhelm them and us.
There is rhythm and movement here. They head out into the world and make their way. They circle back for encouragement, to share victories, and to heal. They move in and out of our lives now. Inviting us in and holding parts for only themselves. They are not the center of our lives, nor are we the center to them. Instead, we find that there we are knit together in a thousand ways. Our shared past binds us. We belong to each other, but we don’t own each other. We must keep choosing to love each other in this moment, and the next.
I don’t know what the next ten years look like for my family. Hopefully, we will see more grandbabies, travel, enjoy time together and apart. Life will continue to change or stay the same and we will sway to the music. Ten years ago, I thought life as I knew it was ending as my oldest headed off to college. Now I know, that time moves so fast… and this family, like most, will continue to find ways to hold on to each other and enjoy the music.