The Perspective of Memory

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I have to reiterate how very much I hate the month of November.  The time change has made it even more dark and depressing.  It’s cold and damp.  The fields, whose beauty I have admired all spring, summer, and fall are now bare.  The land looks harsh and unforgiving.  The world seems tired and used up.  I hate November.

As I drove to work the other morning, I thought about Grace.  All of these years later, I still feel her presence in my life.  I imagine what she would look like at this age (or any other age over the years.)  I imagine her much like Emily, and it makes me miss her even more.  I picture her making a life of her own, much like Luke and Andrew are doing now.   I wonder where she would be or what she would have become.  While those thoughts make me sad, they don’t overwhelm me.  After this many years, those thoughts bring a sense of melancholy.

I realized that Grace  would now be the same age I was when she was born.  The thought was stunning.  I was just a child when she was born.  The idea of any of my children having to face such a challenge, such a loss, at the tender age of 23 made me shudder.  They don’t seem ready for marriage or parenting, let alone being faced with the loss of a child.  My own 23-year-old is just now taking those first steps into adulthood.  He is energized and excited as he embarks on following his dream, experiencing new things, learning new things, meeting people, living alone for the first time.

The difference in my life with T and the lives of our own children are stunning.  We were 20 and 22 when we got married.  From that moment forward, there was no further guidance or support from our parents.  I don’t mean that they didn’t care about us, but that was it.  Their job was done.  There was no checking on us or offers of assistance.  We made our own decisions, good or bad.  We struggled financially.  We worked.  We attended school.  We paid our own way, often scraping the bottom of the barrel.  By the time T and I were expecting our first child three years later, both of our fathers were deeply into their alcoholism.

I remembered the 17 days of Grace’s life.  Our parents did nothing to make that time easier for us.  In fact, their problems  added to our stress.  Both of our fathers were often drunk on their visits to the hospital, and it hurt to see that during such a terrible time.  Classic enablers, our mothers turned a blind eye to their husbands’ behavior.  Confrontation was useless.  It only made matters worse.

There are many bad memories related to our parents from those 17 days, but that’s not what this post is about.  It was in  remembering those terrible days and our parents’ dysfunction that made me see something else entirely.  I was 23 years old back then.  Now things are flip-flopped.  I’m no longer the child.  I am the parent of a 23-year-old, and I was suddenly, profoundly aware of the difference between my relationship with my children and the relationship I had with my own parents at 23.

I called T as I was driving, because I wanted to share these thoughts with him.  I said, “Do you realize that Grace would now be the same age I was when I had her?”  He said, “Wow.  I guess I hadn’t realized that.”  We talked for a while and I asked him if he remembered how our parents had behaved back then.  “Oh, yeah….of course.”  We talked for a while about particular incidents.  We marveled that we were able to get through that hellish time and keep moving forward with our lives.  Looking back from the perspective of time, distance, and as parents now, it is stunning to see the drastic differences in our style of parenting compared to our own parents’.

While I am using our oldest son as an example in this blog post, certainly the same principles could apply to each of our children.  Andrew may be an adult, but we still support him emotionally as parents.  This past year has been a challenge for him.  He was struggling to find his way.  He lost his long-time girlfriend.  His grandpa died.  He didn’t know where he was headed or what he wanted to do with his life.  Many times, there were conflicts.  We saw him struggling, and we intervened even as he attempted to push us away.  We offered him support and encouragement as he worked to find his path in life.  We spent HOURS discussing options with him.  Truly, it has NOT been a good year.

As T and I talked yesterday, we compared this past year and our son’s difficulty to the challenges he and I faced at the same age.  They were completely different issues, but there was one similarity.  Young adults are still on shaky legs when it comes to facing the big things life can dish out.  T and I faced our challenges without the wisdom, advice, and support of our parents.  They were so mired in their own dysfunction.  Our problems were a burden to them.  It is stunning to look back on that time from the perspective of a parent and realize such a thing.

This is not about anger at our parents during that long ago time.  This is about something much more significant.  Years later, these memories and thoughts have allowed me to be so thankful for the wonderful relationships we have with our own children.  Through the pain and the loss, lessons were learned.

T and I discussed our experiences this past year with Andrew.  It’s amazing to see how far he has come.  The unhappy, struggling, and confused young man from last year has embarked on a new life.  His excitement and energy have returned.  Could he have done this without our support?  Maybe, maybe not, but I like to think that we tipped the scales in his favor.

Last night Andrew called T to tell him that he had just finished writing a 10-page analytical paper.  I came in the room just as they were ending their call.  I sat down, and T told me about their conversation.  I was so proud.  I was happy to see T’s pride in our son, and happy that Andrew is taking things so seriously.  (He had skipped free tickets  to a private movie premiere to stay home and write.)

After T updated me on their conversation, I called Andrew.  “I am so proud of you!” I said.  I was beaming, and I could feel his happiness as he began to tell me about the assignment.  When he was done talking, I reminded him once again of how proud I am of him.  Oh, how I wanted to remind him of the mixed-up young man he was a year ago.  I wanted to tell him that I was proud of how far he had come, but I didn’t.  Those bad times will remain in the past unless he brings them up.  My job is not to remind him of his failures, stumbles, or faults.  My job is to be there if is falls.  My job is to congratulate him on his successes.  My job is to love him and to be proud.

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