This has been a funny summer where both of my kids, in their own ways, have been pushing for independence, and then suddenly pulling back from it. Our daughter will turn 20 in a week and a half. She’s been counting by weeks since she turned 19; her race to adulthood. She’s finished two years of college and is home this summer, taking more classes to accommodate a change of her major. To her, the marks of adulthood have to do with summer road trips. She wants to make some long journeys, on her own, or with friends – make her own mistakes, be accountable to no one. This is her adulthood.My vision of adulthood for her has more to do with her ability to clean her room, cook for herself, schedule her time and balance her checkbook. It’s what I was doing when I was her age. But her world is different. She does things that I never could have imagined at her age. While a Sophomore in high school, she traveled to Ireland. Last spring break, she went on a mission trip to Honduras. And for her second semester of next school year, she’s planning to study in Florence, Italy. Clearly her vision of adulthood is about seeing the world, without us.
Our son is 14 and in a very small space of time, he graduated from 8th grade, was confirmed, got a phone (finally!) and started his first real job. A couple weekends ago we went with his soccer team to Lake Okoboji for a tournament. There were 51 teams of soccer kids all very close to his own age. He’s a really social kid, so he wanted to be out in the middle of it without his nerdy parents there to embarrass him by simply being. One of his friends rode with us, so we needed an extra hotel room. That was an independence bonanza for him. It caught me off guard. Together with his new phone and his buddy, he was able to easily check in, but lengthen his leash on life. Constantly monitoring, we let him have independent time with his friends. We would text at the end of the day and let him know what time he’d need to be up and ready to go the next day, and he’d have to manage the rest.
So now we’re back home, and both kids are retracting from time to time. The Boy is in a summer weight lifting program, and I’ve found myself needing to excavate him from bed most days. Where’s that boy who set his own alarm on his new phone? The Girl is making her plans and has her own wheels, so I’m less aware of her day to day schedule, but she still has her challenges keeping herself fed when she doesn’t happen to be home at our dinner time.
The mail today presented the whole situation rather starkly. The Boy got his first paycheck of the new job. At the same time, we got a card from Uncle Charlie with an old picture he’d found of that same Boy, from Thanksgiving of 2000, sitting in an antique high chair, surely a priceless treasure.
I realize that I’m something of a regulator for their adulthood. I can’t stop them from growing up, but I can enable their return to childhood from time to time. And I do. I do this because maybe I’m not ready for my kids to empty the nest. And also because of my love language: acts of service. I show them I love them by making brownies, gently waking them after they’ve stayed up too late the night before, and even picking up that pile of laundry on the floor when a girl just can’t figure out what to wear or how to use a hanger.
Sometimes I still feel very much like a kid when I’m talking with my dad. So I think it’s OK for my own to glide from big to little, because we can’t decide.