Thursday, July 24, 2014

How do you want to look back on this?

My mother.
I know her game.
My mother and I discuss grown children from time to time because, well, we have that in common now. 

Either because she's gracious or because she really doesn't know, every so often, she'll ask how I've handled a particular situation with my adult kids. If it's praiseworthy, she'll repeat what I've said as if I'm the wisest person she's ever met.

I like that about my mother.

The other night, we chatted about Sam, who is home for the last summer before he goes off to make his fortune and buy his father and me matching convertibles.

"How's it all going?" she asked.

Forget that Sam, like the other kids, is a bright and hardworking young adult who knows when he is and isn't doing his best, and which end of that range to stay at. Or, that he is funny and charming and does impressions. Or, that he breaks into song while he's walking around the house complete with instrumental sound effects, including trumpets. Forget that there's a certain sizzle in the air that I can't describe, but which wasn't there before and will not be there in four weeks.

That wasn't what she asked.

Her question was more about the adjustment everyone makes when a kid comes home to the quiet, tidy and formerly empty nest after living with his buddies for a year  in space he has described to his mother as "You wouldn't like it."

She said, "You hear about so many parents dealing with reintroducing rules and finding compromises and just having so many conversations about so many issues."

"Well, you know,"  I said to my mother, "We 'keep house' differently, and, well, I never really know when he's going to be in and out, and well, we run out of stuff a lot, and well,  the laundry room might be free or might not be,"  and so on. "So yeah, it's an adjustment for everyone, but well... "

Sam has been home since the middle of May. I've made one policy request which is to let us know if he plans to be overnight somewhere. If I could, or should, or might nag him about things in connection with keeping our nest neat, I try to remember that he too, has had to adjust. Suddenly people are noticing and commenting on his comings and goings which have drawn the attention of nobody for a long time. I doubt any of his college peers have stopped in the doorway to his room and said, "How do you find anything in here?" Or, "Don't you think you should hang the clothes that are clean?"

We have reached a tacit compromise. He won't tell us to get off his back. We won't tell him when to come home or how much sleep he should get.

I told my mother, "A year from now when he's someplace else, I'll think about this summer, right now. How do I want to look back on it? Do I want to remember how I nagged him? Or that I learned to just let go of stuff that doesn't matter?"

She repeated this, "how do I want to look back on it?" as if I were the wisest person she's ever met. In truth, she has been practicing the art of shutting up since long before my first labor pain. 

I know her game.

My mother is fond of saying about raising children, "Give them a break, the world will knock them over soon enough."  I wasn't an awful teenager, but I was not the chipper, high-honors, volunteer-at-the-soup-kitchen kind either. She was the queen of break-givers. Only once, did she stop what she was doing, turn to me and tell me that I could keep complaining about having nothing to look forward to for the rest of my life, or maybe I could ride my fanny over to hospital and read to sick little children in Pediatrics. I'm not kidding when I say I love her for that, even though I chose a third option of, well, shutting up about my bleak future.

This last summer with Sam has made me remember that moments pass, but don't disappear. We'll look back on them one way or another, and I don't want to remember issues and compromises and new rules and conversations about coexisting. I want to add these good summer days to my archives and remember trumpet impressions.

If you are in the middle of a "last summer" yourself, or, if you have those issues my mother referred to, my advice is this:

Address things as you must, nobody likes a martyr. But also, in the words of a psychology professor I once had, if possible, "Never miss an opportunity to shut up".


  1. Yeah, sometimes I wish I had shut up more. Than I look at how they turned out and I think...maybe I got it just right. WHO EVER KNOWS?

  2. Just found your blog and can't wait to read more! Thanks for this post -- I'm learning this lesson myself right now. My kids (twins, we only have the 2) just graduated from high school and are working as counselors at a summer camp, so we became empty nesters as of the end of June. Hit me like a brick! And I know when they come back at the end of the summer it will be a mini first year of college experience, so I'm readying myself for respecting their growing independence.....while wrestling with that desire to be Mommy. So much to learn still about parenting!! :)

  3. Shelley, I've had that SAME THOUGHT. And Brenda, thank you for visiting and leaving your comments. I wish you happy times ahead.

  4. Loved this post Susan...and especially today, since I had a "challenging" morning with my 16 year old son! Rather than continuing our "discussion" when he came home, I let it go. I pick my battles these days. Great job as always :)

  5. "How do I want to look back on this" *is* a pretty wise way of gauging how to handle something. You are indeed wise. Funny how the rules of the nest are revised accordingly once it empties out — on the child's part as well as the parent's.

    (I love the relationship you have with your mother. Quite admirable.)

  6. Very thought provoking. Fortunately I have six more years to figure this out. Or perhaps develop an addiction to Lithium.

  7. Cheryl, have been there and have gone both with the "about this morning" route and the "eh" route. But as Lisa points out, this perspective is a lot easier to arrive at AFTER the nest has emptied. Most people after that point arrive in Shelley's camp: "I wish I'd shut up more often, but hey, they turned out okay."

  8. I missed more opportunities to shut up than I care to remember. Great post! So glad I've found you.

  9. Thank you, Kim. I'm glad you did too!