A Love Letter
The last two weeks have felt like old times in many ways. First was the travel – Jim and I were in four locations in fourteen days, and that hasn’t happened since March 2020. Second were the activities – we had visitors from four different families in our house, and we attended a meeting with 150+ unmasked people in the same room. All of us had PCR tested twice in a three-day period, but it still felt like an out-of-body experience at first. Finally, we spent the weekend in New York with our kids, enjoying great food, great weather, and truly great fun. We’ve spent lots of good times with our kids since the pandemic started of course, but this time felt especially so, maybe because it was planned somewhat last minute, something else we haven’t been able to do for a long while.
I’ve been trying to decipher whether these two weeks felt special because they seemed somewhat unencumbered by COVID or if it was because the nature of the activities forced me to live more in the moment than I often do. With so much travel and social interaction, I didn’t have time to manage planning and logistics as much as usual, and instead, I let the to-do list build up more than the norm. I spent more time reading, conversing and just being with others. And it didn’t bug me to see email build up or to roll items I thought I would complete to the following days because these tasks felt less important than interacting with what was right in front of me. We can’t live that way all the time, but it made me realize that I’d like to try to put aside non-urgent obligations more often. It fulfilled me differently to take pleasure in the moment I was in right then.
Even more so, the days with our kids felt exceptionally special -- as if we had captured time out of their adult and independent lives. We spent less than forty-eight hours in New York, arriving more than a day after Emma. Both kids had work to complete; Jack was planning a Super Bowl party, and Emma had initially decided to travel to the city to see a friend, not us. Still, we spent both Friday and Saturday evenings all together, and Emma allotted us Saturday afternoon as well.
Beyond their allocation of time though, our interactions felt different. Jack talked thoughtfully about one of his classes and led us in a discussion about whether race is a social construction. Emma explained the research she had done around summer internships and how the experience might help prepare her for her goals post-college. They both shared topics of interest and engaged in ensuing debate, and it went both ways: they showed interest in our topics too. We did all of this while eating at some of our favorite spots, timing ourselves on the Friday crossword, kidding our way through a history-based board game – it was as if we were spending the weekend with adult friends.
I am amazed at how much my kids have grown up, even in the short span between freshman and sophomore year. Sure, they call for advice and for help, but they manage most of life without asking. They set their schedules, make their appointments, and meet their deadlines. They decide goals and achieve or do not achieve them based on their own choices and decision-making. They join clubs, meet new friends, and have all kinds of other experiences that I hear about only when they feel like sharing. There are many days when I do not hear from them at all, and sometimes, if it’s been a few, I text just to say hello and connect in the least obtrusive way I can. They present much more as mature, evolved individuals, and it’s a joy to watch and an even greater joy to be allowed in when they choose to let me.
I have very few good friends with married children and even fewer with grandchildren. One person I know with two married daughters, one grandson and another grandchild on the way recently told me to enjoy my kids during this time when they are adults without their own families. Sharing your kids is difficult, she explained, and it is only in that short time when they are mature adults without a larger family that you can operate as a core unit of almost equals. My kids aren’t my peers yet, and let’s be clear that they still rely on us as parents for a lot more than funding. That said, I do think this visit progressed me to the next level of parenting, one where I support, advise and in rare cases, instruct, but more and more, where I operate with a given that they deserve respect and appreciation for their opinions and choices even if I may not agree with them wholeheartedly. Jim and I have moved into a parenting phase where our kids feel like fully formed, individuals with their own plans, dreams, practices and mores. We are most often now going to be loving observers, thankful every day that they still enjoy our company.
I do think the last two weeks felt special because COVID didn’t dominate. I also certainly enjoyed being more present in my everyday life. But the most special part of the last two weeks was that weekend in New York. After over two years managing our lives through the screen of COVID, Jim and I spent two days with our almost-adult kids just enjoying one another. And to bring it full circle, it was a weekend where it felt like my kids had left the burden of COVID behind: they had evolved as individuals into the early phase of adulthood in spite of and beyond the pandemic. Two kids who spent the last semester of high school, all of freshman year at college and even the first semester of sophomore year bound by limitations borne of COVID had moved on anyhow to become thriving individuals who could think past it, and outside of it, to a full life ahead.