Monday, June 21, 2010

Apron Strings

Barbara: I was in Montreal last week and had the chance to spend some time with my father and stepmother. It was great. We strolled through the Botanical Gardens and ate food so delicious, it will colour my dreams for years to come. 

The trip also became another chance for me to reflect on the wonderful good luck I’ve had when it comes to parents—and with Father’s Day just past, to acknowledge what an interesting and lovely man is my own. He who was rarely around in my growing years because of work and work-travel is now a manifestly connected and considerate dad with whom to commiserate. In truth, I never minded his business trips when I was young—I was very close to my mother and sisters and we kinda looked on his time away as a good excuse to Girls’ Night it up—no matter that we weren’t old enough for discos and gin tonics, we rallied with fast food burgers and late night TV. 

So, as an adult, it’s been a very sweet development to get to know my father. And he constantly surprises and delights me with his intuitive wisdom. Like the other day on our visit, he tells me that he and my stepmom were just realizing that my husband and I had now entered into one of the best phases of adulthood: the time after your kids are grown and before you’re too old to be sidelined by physical constraints. Now, before I go on, I just want to say: it’s not my intention to nyah-nyah those of you who are still in the thick, or to discourage those of you who haven’t yet started that part of your life-journey, but to clasp arms with those of us on the other side so we can tell you, “Yeah, it was exhausting and wonderful and crazy and stressful—sometimes beyond words—but there comes a time when your job is done and you can let go and sit back and abscond responsibility from other people’s life choices.” 

It’s a cutting of the apron strings from the other side of the old cliché. We let go because we have to and because it doesn’t matter anymore what we say because the kids are fully cooked and will do whatever they damn well please. And there is something so liberating about that. When the kids were babies, on sleepless nights my husband would moan with complete conviction that our children would never, ever, ever sleep through the night or poop in the toilet. Well, he was wrong on both counts. And of course, we knew that one day our kids wouldn’t need us anymore, but in the long moments between birth and maturity that concept seemed/felt unfathomable. And then one day, they didn’t. Like overnight. Both of them still at home, but fully cooked and independent and apron-less. And I get to enjoy them, counsel them, worry about them––but I don’t get to handhold them anymore. So now my hands are free to pick and choose. It’s a curious feeling. But I know that’s what my Dad meant. 

I also realize that this is why it took for me to reach adulthood to finally be privy to his gems—I think he was saving this precious stuff for when it would be welcome as conversation … and not shunned as lecture. 

Deb: So much of what you had to say resonated with me, although from a slightly different angle as you know. We have been empty nesters for two years now and have had a huge taste of what you speak of. Most of the time, except for holidays, there is no boy in the house at all. So we are thrilled to have created a friendship with him before he left, as I know you have with your girls. As a result of this friendship, we find ourselves decidedly not guilty about enjoying this “new” couple before us. The couple that is into going to a Jazz Festival on a Tuesday night! Where did they come from? And when we see the boy, the time is rife with quality because we are such friends and really enjoy each other. 

If you had told me when the boy was 2, 5, 9,12 and even 17 that it would feel this right for him and for us, I would have never believed you. The day we left him in another country to go to school and watched him walk away from us was a sting in our hearts I will never forget. He let go of our hands and walked in one direction and we grabbed on to each other’s and walked in the other. In that very moment, it felt different … and nice.

Barb, I have had a similar joy with my Dad lately but for different reasons, as you also well know. He is having some health issues and at 83 has needed my frequent help. What I discovered through these excursions we take from groceries to drugstores, to specialists appointments, etc, is that I treasure this time with him. It has been challenging given his lack of mobility, but this reversal waltz we have been doing has been an unexpected pleasure. It has further illustrated to me what an amazing human he is. And as I just wrote in his Father’s Day card, I am still learning gorgeous life lessons that, as you say, Barb, are not even couched in lecture any more. We are two loving adults sharing wisdom, history, and deep respect. My time with him could be summed up as grateful time. We are just so happy to be here together right now.


  1. good job making me cry before 9 am on a Monday morning.

    But also giving me a glimmer of hope about reaching that "other side." As you know, from this side, with still-unformed blobs and apron strings, it's somewhat unbearable to try to imagine it.

    You make it sound not only doable, but enjoyable. But, still made me cry.

  2. Didn't mean to make you cry -- but did want to offer hope. It really does feel all-consuming, doesn't it? ... until it's not.

  3. It's an amazing concept, isn't it? The way how when we are living the different stages of our children growing up, it SEEMS like those stages will last absolutely forever. Then, suddenly, we're looking back and wondering where the time went! Time travels in beautiful ways, giving us great perspective along the way.

  4. I always cry at joyful things. My friend and I had a conversation about it the other day. She only cries for sad which to me is just well, sad. Gae, you had a good joyful cry today and they are by far my favourite. Isn't it nice to know that things can still evolve beautifully with your partners and your parents?

  5. So true Joanne,
    My Mom used to say to me when our boy was little "don't fret over any stage they are in because it's almost gone and there's another one just around the corner."

  6. I've got two lads soon to leave home, and in one way I look forward to it while in another I'm apprehensive. So thank you for weighing in on the side of "It's going to be great!" I think it will, too. I hope so.

    One day last week I stood looking at the clouds against the blue sky and wept with joy and gratitude at their beauty and the spot I'm in. So I getcha, Deb.

  7. Be careful ladies! Just as I was settling into that empty nest phase and kinda starting to get comfy with it is when I got PREGNANT! We call him our condom baby. (Those things are only 98% effective you know)
    All I'm saying is...don't let your guard down! I just read about a 62 year old woman having twins!
    : )

  8. I think that for me this post really hits home. I think now since I have went away for collage my parents have become close and for me its kinda weird but I have figured out more about my self. I still miss my family and I always will but I know that I have there support and love. With my grandfather, he is the one who has always been there.Deb just like you my grandfather has been having some health issues. Recently he had a heart attack and I had too step in. Not only for him but I didn't want my grandmother to go through this alone. I love my grandfather like i said he is like my father. He taugh me how to ride a bike and how to walk and i remember him coming home after a long day at work and rocking me to sleep in his chair if i was having trouble taking my naps. He is just a great person to be around and I am still learning from him everyday. I just think that it dosn't matter how old or young our fathers or even grandfathers get they will always still teach us things in life . I know i am still learning from my grandfather and I love him so much for that.

  9. You mean there is light at the end of the tunnel? We had a talk with my 15 year old yesterday about JOBS... "I don't want to do that." "I don't want to do THAT." We can't get her to understand that work isn't always fun--you have to do it ANYWAY. I think we will NEVER be shot of her. Even after college, she will be at home because she doesn't like work *rolls eyes*. I do love that we are past needing baby-sitters--the freedom for me to go do something regardless of children is fabulous. But i am still having a hard time believing they will become fully functioning adults...

  10. My dad and I have always been really close, he raised me and my two sisters after my mother passed away. We've always had more of a friendship than a parent-child relationship, but now that I'm away and living on my own I've really started to enjoy it. I love what Deb said about sharing wisdom, history, and deep respect with her father. In the past month or so, I somehow found myself in the same place with my dad. We still talk almost every day, but he's not just checking up on me to see if I'm okay, but we're enjoying our friendship and sharing the experiences of our lives. Skype is wonderful for this, btw!

    On the topic of kids, I don't have any myself or a husband (unfortunately) but my baby sister is like a daughter to me. She's just about to begin her senior year of high school and I catch myself wondering where all the time went and marveling at how much fun she is to be around now. Though I've treasured being there for her, I'm enjoying her newfound maturity immensely.

  11. My boys have flown the coop but they still let us know they need us - and our chequebooks. The only time I complain about the empty nest thing is when we travel and I don't have a built in pet sitter. We visit Son #1 wherever he might be - South America or Australia and talk to him almost every day. Son #2 lives not so far away and we see each other all the time. I cried when each of them went away to school but I have adapted very well to the new normal.

  12. Outgrowing babysitters -- and then needing dogsitters -- that seems an apt transition!

    And Ruth, you have truly made the most of the challenges of your situation. Your little sister is a lucky girl to have you. And don't worry -- you have PLENTY of time to find that husband!

  13. Deb, I remembered this entry in y'all's blog and thought about what you said about making friends with your son as I was typing this out earlier today. I got a lovely taste of the growing-up-son phenomenon this morning.



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