My daughter had a birthday last week and my son last month. With both firmly now in their twenties and lives of their own, I don’t see them together that much anymore.
That’s why I like it when those birthdays roll around. It means we’ll do dinner somewhere. It means we’ll be together.
When they were growing up, it never occurred to me that one day I wouldn’t be seeing them all the time. I can’t speak for my ex-wife, but I was too busy taking my daughter to ballet or piano lessons or my son to baseball practice or teaching him how to ride a bike to realize how time really does fly by.
My then-wife and I started our family in the early 1980s. I remember each child being born, every detail like it was yesterday. The birth of my daughter and then my son were the two biggest days of my life.
Now, moving ahead more than two decades and remembering raising my children and living through so many experiences with them, I’ve recently made a rather profound conclusion, at least for me. I’m realizing that my kids are now me — or at least how I was.
Now I’m like my parents who would check in from time to time to see how their adult kids were doing. I’m realizing while my children’s lives are speeding up mine is slowing down.
The reality is that time stops for no one. Another reality is parenthood never stops. I think a parent always worries about their kids. I know I do.
When my daughter was young, I used to worry about that blocked tear duct she had (long gone now), why she never wanted to sleep at night (that went away too) and a next-door neighbor girl who I thought was bullying her (I remember secretly watching them play in the backyard together from a kitchen window just to make sure my daughter wasn’t being pushed around).
With a boy, the worries were a little different. When he was little, I worried about his stubbornness and temper (son like father), his less-than-good grades in school (son like father) and, believe it or not, why he didn’t like peanut butter (this can’t be normal, can it?).
Those growing-up worries have been replaced with more adult ones now. Again, parenting never stops.
I think my daughter is working too hard at her job. I worry about that. I worry that her cat, whom she loves and is now old, is going to die soon. I worry that an auto mechanic has ripped her off on a major car repair.
I worry that my son isn’t fixing proper meals for himself and that he’s eating too much junk food. I think he drives too fast and worry that he’ll get in an accident. I worry (kind of, sort of) if he’ll ever meet the right girl.
As far as peanut butter, I’ve given up on that. He still doesn’t like it.
Sometimes I wonder what they think of me, their older dad who most of the time is feeling his age in his bones. I think they notice this, but I try to make up for it by being “with it.” My kids and I have great, wonderful conversations about what’s going on in this world and I can keep my own with them. My mind, knock on wood, is still sharp.
On a personal level, I know they hate my smoking and worry that I won’t have enough money left for retirement. I would tell them that most writers never retire, but that would just invoke a conversation I don’t want to have.
You see, this is what happens when kids grow into adulthood and parents become older. The older parent has to keep some things from their grown-up kids. It’s OK for me to worry about them, but I don’t want them worrying about me.
I’m pretty much the old man at CityBeat. Just about everyone on staff is younger than I am, and I get a lot of pleasure when fellow CityBeaters get married and start having families of their own.
When pregnancies are announced, I have an answer I know is stock, but I say it anyway: “This will change your life forever.”
It’s true. One’s life has taken a turn — a turn for the better, or so I hope. I think deciding to be a parent is a high calling. It should be the noblest thing a person undertakes.
When those babies are born and fellow CityBeaters start parenthood, I usually say something else that’s stock but totally true: “They’re only little once. Enjoy it.”
I so mean that. Throughout my living space, I have so many pictures of my kids growing up through the years. My favorite is a photo of me and my kids taken by my wife of me holding their hands — daughter, age 7, and son, age 5 — while looking at some ducks swimming in a lake at the Cincinnati Zoo. Whenever I look at that photo, I remember that day clearly. I feel nothing but complete happiness.
Most nights when I sleep I dream of my children at various ages in their life — sometimes growing up, sometimes as adults. Maybe these dreams are the result of the fact that my kids are on my mind, that I’m thankful for them and love them.
My love for them should be obvious, but it occurs to me I need to tell them how I feel more often.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]