Last month I made the last payment on my daughter’s college tuition. She’ll graduate, debt-free, in two months (knock wood). And last week, to make me feel even older, my son got his learner’s permit. When his sister got hers, he was still in elementary school and I had a lot less grey in my hair. (Not that I’m making any claims about cause and effect — she’s a terrific driver.)
As a college professor I can sometimes kid myself that time is standing still for me. After all, I’m usually surrounded by people of exactly the same age—18-22—which can make me feel as if I’m not aging, either. But if my children are aging then I can’t deny that I am, too. Their big milestones are publicly acknowledged markers, though—mine are smaller: professional achievements that often aren’t meaningful outside my narrow context, and of course the gradual and sometimes humiliating physical changes that aging brings. (My frozen shoulder feels like one of those.). It’s no wonder so many parents, myself included, start to define themselves through their children’s accomplishments. Why not bask in the reflected glory of a child’s achievements, things we can all recognize? Sure, we don’t really deserve the credit, but when has that ever stopped a proud parent?
Mostly, though, I’m just curious to see what’s next with my kids. Each is entering a new stage, a stage marked by ever greater independence, ever greater distance from home, one way or another. Even if Mariah comes home after she graduates, she’ll be coming home as an adult, as someone who’s lived on her own for years now and can make her own way. In the meantime, her younger brother will, soon enough, not even need her (or us) to chauffeur him from place to place. Increasingly I feel as if I’m standing on the sidelines with them, just watching—though I certainly make my presence known when I feel it’s warranted.
My 35th high school reunion is this summer, and in preparation for it classmates have set up a facebook page which has been remarkably active of late. It’s been interesting to see how many of us are already empty-nesters, even grandparents, even as others are still wrangling lunch boxes and after-school activities. We are all roughly the same age, but reaching vastly different milestones right now—which makes for interesting conversation. It’s a good reminder, too, that we are not defined solely through our children—we are job-changers, serious hobbyists, poets, artists; caring for parents, children, pets, and partners; we are all kinds of thinkers, clearly still growing and changing. As I watch my kids meet their milestones, it’s nice to be reminded that I may still have some of my own to meet as well.