Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Knew I Was A Grown-Up

I knew I was a grown-up when I began to look at my parents as people instead of just parents. My childish view of their lives being completely intertwined with everything I did began to change. This metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood did not happen all at once but through a series of events that began when I was about 27. We all want to be someones kid. We want to boast to our mom about how great we are or our accomplishments no matter what age we are. We want to call dad up for some advice or just to hear that whatever is going wrong will work itself out. But, what about when our parents need that same counseling and the feeling of being taken care of? When and how does the role reversal take place?

For me it was the decline in health of my dad's father. My family was so fortunate to have all 4 grandparents alive into their 80's. I was 27 when my first grandfather passed away. At his memorial service I got to hear some of the most wonderful things about him. With these realizations came feelings of great regret as I realized that I did not know my grandpa as well as I thought. Then the sadness for my dad swept over me as I heard about how his dad raised him and how special he was as a father. I thought to myself, my dad just lost his dad. My sadness shifted to the loss my father felt- all the memories he had of growing up and all of the things he learned from his dad. The finality of my grandpa's death weighed in and the see-saw of grief and celebration when someone dies became transparently real. We could never speak to my grandpa again or hear his is sarcastic rants or opinions about liberal politics. It was a signifcant ending in my dad's life, and it was sad.

Being 27 I was able to look at this loss in the perspective of an adult and how I will feel when my parents pass. Hopefully I will be lucky enough to see them live well into their 80's. But, I took away with me the notion that I must know my parents for who they are as individuals now. I will take notice of their funny memories and quirks and laugh with them as much as I can. I will know them inside and out. This includes the story of my mom sneaking out of the house in high school. She was such a good kid that when she got caught her parents didn't even scold her, and her brother and sister were clapping and saying, good for you!
I know that my dad always was and always will be a person who loves to have a good time and has lived the work hard, play hard philosphy. His pockets are full of memories of hysterical times. They're brimming actually.

I decided to throw my parents an anniversary party about four years ago. It was an off-year, #34 because my mom's dad, Pop was very close to death. I wanted him to be there for the celebration so that my mom could have that memory with her dad; they were very close. For a gift I spent about 20-30 hours scanning and collecting photos of my parents and family. I toiled over making a digital slide show for them. Through this experience I ended up receiving a gift as well. While sorting through these wonderful photos I saw my parents lives from when they were born to Halloween costumes, riding their bikes, high school graduation photos, engagement, wedding, and all through the rest of their lives as they became parents, aunts and uncles, and accomplished in their careers. It was an amazing experience and very rewarding to show them the finished product. As the slide show played at the party I fought back tears the entire 20 minutes because my love for them poured out of me. They have had such beautiful lives together and apart. I hope my life is just as full.

The last experience that altered my outlook of the relationship between parent and child was watching my Pop's life end at 89 years old. He and my Nana lived in Florida for over 25 years. As his health declined further and further my Nana's health became affected by constantly taking care of Pop. They had to move back to Rochester. This inevitable change had been brewing for a few years, but there came a point where there was no choice. Their house had to be sold. My grandparents could no longer live so far away without any family. My mother and I went down to Florida to get Pop checked into the hospital so he could be transported up North and into the nursing home. It was one of the most gut wrenching experiences of my life as I heard Pop ask for one more night at home. He knew he would never be back. He would never sit in his favorite chair or live under the same roof as my Nana. He was leaving everything that was familiar to him, and he had no choice. It was the way it was- he was dying. My mom was so strong, but at that moment I saw a little girl having to parent her parent. All I could think of was the memories of days gone by and how this changed my mother's life forever.

Pop died not long after moving up to Rochester. With this loss the fact that times marches on and time is limited embedded itself under my skin and on the tips of my fingers. My thoughts and opinions changed. I no longer felt like a carefree young person who only had to worry about my own life and troubles. A transformation took place where much of my worry surrounds my parents and their happiness and health. I worry about losing loved ones. This is the ultimate lesson. Life is precious, and it cannot be taken for granted. There are some things that matter and so many things that do not. A grown-up sees this lesson and lives by it, abides by it, and never forgets it. Everything can change in an instant. We hear this often but tend to forget the tiny gifts life offers everyday. Whenever possible I take the time to notice the sun shining on my face, the taste of fresh fruit, and laughing and enjoying the company of special people.

Live life in the moment because we never get those moments back.

When did you know you were a grown-up?


Kathy B! said...

but immediately feel sheltered when my parents are nearby.

I've noticed, lately, a dcline in their health. I wonder if I will feel like an adult when they can no longer wrap me in the safe cocoon of their (perceived) omnipotence?

A very thought=provoking post.

Kristin said...

I can't put my finger on a specific moment. It was a long transition.

What a beautiful and (as Kathy B said) thought provoking post.

Caragh said...

I knew I was a grown up(even though im only 22 and most people would say I don't qualify) When I read the letter my mum left me the day she died.
She told me how proud she was of me, and asked me to look after my brothers and my dad.
Taking on that responsibility was huge at just 19, when dad got sick a few months later.
I stepped it up and did what needed to be done. I believe my strength is what makes me a grown up

Leah said...

Such a precious story. Mine is similar to yours. I started seeing my parents as people. I mean real people. It was crazy. And in that moment I realized I was no longer a child.

AK said...

I am still not in ur stage for sure...I still want my mom to say 'its ok' and dad to say 'I am with u' everytime something goes wrong...Anyways ur post is nice though its long. It is worth its length.Takecare and dropby when u get time.

Jewls said...

What a beautiful post. Makes me think, maybe I'm still not quite a grown up?

Beautiful Mess said...

I knew I was a grown-up when my dad lost his eye sight. I knew we all had to band together as a family to help out their "new" life. We all had to help with the adjustment period.

Then I grew up again when my mom got sick and passed away. I became even MORE of a grown up when she passed. I feel very over protective of my dad and little sister now. Anything happens to them or someone does them "wrong", I get SO pissed off!

Thank you for this post! It's beautiful and it made me think! I love it when you do that.

Meg. said...

I'm not sure when I experienced my first "grown up" moment, but I just wanted to stop by and tell you that you did a great job on this post.

Very touching. Very...deep (for lack of a better word!).

And I also get you on the feelings of regret in not knowing your Grandpa better. My only living Grandpa is currently very ill, and I've had similar thoughts along the lines of, "This man raised my father, but do I really know him at all?" It's a remorseful, panicky feeling.

This "life" business is so complex, isn't it?

Sandy said...

What a lovely post. My relationship with my parents changed dramatically when I "ran away" to college at age 21 and lived in a different city from my parents. I was supporting myself and paying my own tuition, so I was really a grown-up at that point, and it changed the way I saw them.

Amy said...

I was a week from turning 21 when I became an adult emotionally. My mom was in the hospital with terminal cancer and I was the POA that made the official call to disconnect the life support. I had the support of my family, but I was the one to sign the documents.

Watching my grandparents suffer through the grief of losing their first born daughter tore me apart. I remember begging to take on their grief too. Now I know it was theirs to carry, but back then I just wanted their hurt to stop.

Losing my mom was the defining moment in my life when I stopped being a child and began my life as an adult.

Your post is very touching and I can feel the love you have for your parents.

Anonymous said...

Its strange, isn't it, that we try so hard in our late teens and young adulthood to assert that we are "grown-ups", but then something happens that brings you to your knees, and you just want to be someone's baby again. I don't think that ever leaves.....and this post resonated with me a great deal!
Introspective and wonderful as always!
lisa from destination-taiwan forced to comment anonymously due to pesky blogger issues! LOL

In Due Time said...

I think I felt like an adult as a teenager.

My Uncle died the other day and my brother called me to talk about it. I kind of slipped up and said, "you know you're getting old when your aunts and uncles start dying." My SO thought that was a bit much Oops!

WiseGuy said...

LOLOL....Have had a lot of false alarms on that one!

I think I have been muttering the am-grown-up arguement to my parents for a long long time....there is no one single time...it happened in bits and pieces!


Stacey said...

I saved this post to come back and read when I had more time. It is indeed very thought-provoking.

I became a grown-up somewhere between 2001 and 2002. My husband and I moved away from his hometown and shortly thereafter we began our long battle with recurrent miscarriage. I was 24 years old and it definitely made me grow up right then and there.

We have lost many loved ones in the past couple of years as well. These experiences certainly do begin to change your perspective.

Great post!

A Mom in Jacksonville, FL said...

What a beautiful post.

I do remember when I turned 23 thinking that I was the same age as my "cool" 3rd grade teacher had been. Becoming the same age as Mrs. House was a right of passage.

I definitely found a deeper respect and understanding for my parents after having my daughter.


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