I’m sitting on the patio wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. It’s such a lovely evening that I decided to take my laptop outside to write. The sun is setting, and I’ve lit a couple of candles on the patio table. The locusts are buzzing in the trees. Near and far they’re calling out to each other. The sounds are in layers coming loudly from the trees overhead but a softer, lower pitch from the trees out by the field. The breeze is cool on my bare legs, and although I know that the heat of summer is not gone, I can feel the season beginning the transition into fall.
T and I just returned from taking Andrew to the train station. T danced a little jig as the two of us walked back to the car. “One down, and one to go,” he said. While we had a lovely week with all four kids home, we are exhausted and ready for our household to settle back into the routine we have recently established. It seems that we kind of like our new routine, and we’re ready for Luke to head back to Milwaukee in a couple of weeks. In fact, we’re planning on turning the trip to Milwaukee into a badly needed couple of days of adult relaxation.
We had our family party last night, and it was great. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends all gathered together on our patio. We sat around eating, drinking, and laughing. Several times, I caught myself quietly observing the “kids” as they reminisced about long ago times, family vacations and holidays, and mutual friends. They made plans to travel to visit one another and talked about their lives while I sat wondering where the time has gone. I’ve changed all of their diapers at one time or another, and now most of them tower over me.
As the night wore on, their voices became louder and louder. Uncle Jack even led us around on the patio for a family dance party. I haven’t laughed so hard, or danced with such abandon in years. Around 1:30 a.m., we rounded the kids up and moved the party indoors. The party was in still in full-force, and I was afraid some sleepy neighbor was going to complain about the noise. The kids surrounded the kitchen table and hauled in more chairs. They had some elaborate game going, and it was obvious that adult involvement was no longer needed (or desired.) T and I, along with Aunt and Uncle headed back out to the patio for some quieter conversation. We smiled from time to time as we looked in at our kids and their friends, our blessings. We talked quietly once again about the logistics of a major move for both of our families. Could we do it? Would we do it? If we didn’t, would we forever live with regrets? There are no answers to those questions. The future remains cloudy in our crystal balls. What we finally determined is that a move is going to involve a tremendous amount of risk and even more guts than we had imagined.
Eventually, Aunt and Uncle walked home with instructions to their children to be along in a reasonable amount of time. T and I picked up about a hundred beer bottles and cleaned up the bulk of the mess on the patio. We headed in and found ourselves upstairs in our room. Several kids were spending the night, and we sorted through pillows and blankets for making up temporary beds. We were beat, and we laid across our bed for a moment. We smiled in the dark as we listened to the kids still going strong. We knew that we needed to go down and break up the party, but we stole a few moments in the quiet dark just the two of us.
We held hands, and talked quietly about the night and about this time in our lives. We are all in transition. Our kids are finding their way in the world as adults. They are often uncertain and in need of advice and support. We are their safety net, and coming together as a family on nights like this is important to all of them. It anchors and grounds them in this world and enables them to strike out once again with confidence on their own paths. What we had not been expecting was our own time of transition. This is a difficult time, a difficult age, for us as well. We laughed and said that we are having our own adolescence.
For so many years, our focus was on being parents. The daily routine of raising four kids consumed our free time. Now (almost all) of the kids are grown, and it’s sometimes confusing as to where that leaves us as parents and as a couple. Who are we now? What is it we are going to do with the rest of our lives now that this giant task of caring for, providing for, and nurturing four kids is nearing an end? Just as our kids are finding their way in this world, it feels very much like T and I are also seeking our own paths.
I don’t think previous generations, at least in my family, had these thoughts as their kids flew the nest. They simply went on with their established routines and grew older and older. They looked forward to retirement, but I often wonder why. Was work so bad? Was the alternative of sitting home day in and day out preferable to the daily routine of their working lives? At least when they worked, they had interaction with the world around them. It chills me to envision a retirement that would be in any way similar to that of my parents’ and grandparents’. Coffee at the kitchen table, reading the paper, puttering around, and incrementally growing less and less engaged with current events sounds to me like a slow, painful death.
Thankfully, T and I don’t see the completion of our duties as parents as the end of something. Instead, we see this as a new opportunity, a transition, and a chance to do things a little differently in our lives. There is so much more to do, so much to experience and enjoy. We don’t see the end of these years of raising four kids as something to mourn; it is something to celebrate. It is giving us the gift of a new-found freedom, and so T and I will keep talking, searching, and seeking our new path together.