It started with an essay question: “When did you first realize you have become a grown-up?”
Then came the Facebook message: “Happy Birthday! Hard to believe we are entering another decade…how is that possible?”
The “…” part of the message alluded to memories of little girls playing dress-ups or Barbie dolls; birthday parties with paper favors and pink party dresses; and neighborhood moms who knew when to offer a popsicle or a chocolate chip cookie. The children in those recollections were us – daughters from the 1950’s. Somehow we had become older than many of our grandparents were when we huddled with them around a single black and white television to watch June Clever vacuum in her dress and pearls and Ozzie and Harriet ponder the responsibility of rearing two rowdy boys.
I looked through my Facebook page. High school friends smiled at me from profile photos – pictures that looked more like our parents than the yearbook shots that showed up on our nametags at class reunions. Seemingly, we were grown up. Ask any of our children or – gasp – grandchildren. They will certainly tell you we are old! However, the question remains – “When did you first realize you had become a grown-up?” The befuddling answer is, “I don’t know…”
Was it high school graduation? College graduation? Marriage? First house? Children?
My daughter plastered herself against a glass door and sobbed when I took her to kindergarten. She was sure she did not want to be there – at least she wanted me to think that she needed to be with me. Day after day we went through the same routine. Her teacher, a kindergarten expert, told me how to respond to her when she clung to me, begging me to stay. The fact that she wanted me to stay was the good news! It indicated her desire was to be at school, just not without me. I was told to peel her off of my leg, tell her I would return for her after school and simply walk out of the door without looking back. How do you ignore your screaming child? How do you not look back? Her sobs became my broken heart. I stoically walked away. If she saw my tears, she would know I shared her preoccupation with our impending separation.
Her five-year-old understanding wouldn’t allow her to know the depth of my emotion. She wanted her mommy – plain and simple. My mind filled with memories of those intimate moments between a mother and child when all that mattered was cradling her in my arms while gently rocking her into peace and calm. Mothers know the look on their baby’s face when anxiety morphs into serenity, when sleep absorbs chaos simply because Mommy is there. There is no stress, no frustration – just peace and trust. Now, I was walking away from her when she knew only one thought – she needed me. The experts tell us that we must allow our children to feel emotional pain, to learn how to self-sooth. Life is not perfect and our job is to guide our children through their many life traumas so they learn coping skills for the next and the next and the next complicated moment. I thought the experts were crazy.
We lived through the kindergarten anxieties. Her teacher assured me she was fine within five minutes of my leaving. She played with the other children, learned the suggested curriculum and was considered a successful first grade candidate. I was proud of her accomplishments, although I longed for the lost tender moments we shared when I could hold her in my arms – the ones that changed so poignantly with her growth and development.
I certainly could have used some of her kicking and screaming when we dropped her off at college. Her final hug was filled with eager anticipation as she looked forward to an exciting new life as a co-ed. She dutifully hugged her father and I, displaying a smile that assured me she could conquer anything life presented to her. I was the one who wanted to plaster myself against the glass door of her dormitory building and cry out for her to come back to me. Instead, she strolled down the long corridor to her new room, new friends and new life. Didn’t she know how much I needed her? It was surreal to appreciate how much our roles had changed. Alas, once again the experts suggested that I bury my own needs and let her fly as she is intended to fly – to become the woman that God created her to be. I continued to question the quality of the experts’ advice. Was she ready? I knew in my heart she was. The real question was about me. Was I ready?
Maybe I was a grown up at that moment, although don’t think so. In my world “grown-ups” were those who had reached their place in life – people who were done being shaped and formed into a better understanding of life as we know it; those who had reached their potential. Letting my daughter go as she entered kindergarten, college and all the milestones in between prepared me to let go one more time as she pursued a career choice that would literally take her around the world. And, in like manner, I understood that each life experience prepared me for the unknown hovering in the future. My Facebook friends and I had more nuggets of experience in our chains of life than sweet June Cleaver had pearls in her cleaning day necklace. We have lived through times when our worst moments ultimately led to our finest hours. Likewise, we still have difficult times when we question all that is right and true and good. If we are wise, we recognize the continual process of renewal and the opportunity to grow closer to our own true essence, the one God created into us. Our job is to be open to the opportunities life presents, and sometimes bombards us with, so that we never become stagnant.
Grown up? Maybe.
Finished? Completed? Thank God for the courage to embrace life with all of its joys and hurts; its longed for as well as its dreaded changes; and the resulting wisdom that comes from the experience of living so that the only honest answer to those questions is a single word: “Nope…”