I remember very vividly the day this family picture was taken:
Lou was gassy and cranky and wiggling like crazy on my lap. Harry (top left) was annoyed at being interrupted from watching The Jeffersons. Frank (top middle) was irritated at missing baseball practice. Max (bottom left) had to cut short a play date with his buddy Brad and Sam (middle bottom) missed his much-needed nap. And all, including my husband (top right) balked at the formal attire thrust at them and ordered to be put on – quickly and without complaint – by me. Except for Louie, who was too young to formally protest.
In spite of grumblings and mumblings, the photographer cajoled the whole gang into smiling and snapped the picture, capturing our family in a moment in time. That portrait would hang in every entrance foyer wall of every home we would live in after that.
Okay, I admit it. I get a lump in my throat and a pit in my tummy most afternoons when three o’clock rolls around and the school buses start dumping out kids on corners all over my neighborhood.
I see those kids. Tired. Hungry. Stooped over with a cumbersome back pack. Pushing their friends. Laughingly engaged in conversation. Or walking by themselves, anxious to reach home from a rough day of addition and subtraction.
I once had five little guys racing home – in a wide range of moods and with a great variety of tales to tell me. Or withhold from me. I once had masses of potato chip crumbs, rumpled couch pillows stained with spills from apple juice, missing homework crises and jumbled piles of mismatched soccer cleats to deal with. And car pool arrangements, teacher conferences, exam dates and basketball practice and game schedules to coordinate.
I am no longer the hub of my sons’ lives.
I realized this when Lou sent me this picture, just weeks after his first son was born at the beginning of the summer.
I realized this when, in mid-August, Frank sent me this picture with him vacationing with his kids and wife on the West Coast.
My sons’priorities have shifted.
My control has waned.
My power diminished.
No longer do I have a say in the day to day doings of my children – what sports they play, what time they go to bed, how much ice cream they sneak in before dinner, or if they write a timely thank you note or fail to write one at all.
So, if you are one of those parents whose back seats are empty, what can you do to fill the void? Here are five tips:
#1 Find a passion: And carve out uninterrupted time to devote to that passion. Be protective of that time. Do not apologize. I have a friend who takes classes each semester in the Ollie program at her local university – Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She takes a wide variety of courses: Shakespeare, Classical Music, and Great Art, Architecture and Museums of the world. And very little gets in the way of her attending.
#2 Realize life is always a balancing act: It is impossible to always have your life in balance on a day- to-day basis. One of my friends, who has a challenging day job, is overwhelmed right now with caring for a mother who has multiple life-threatening health issues. Is she going to yoga class? Nope. Is she going out to a leisurely dinner with friends? Nope. Is she hosting sleepovers for her grandkids? Not at this juncture.
#3 Know your priorities: I have three: family, self-care and writing/speaking. Depending on circumstances and responsibilities, the order gets switched around and sometimes much more time is devoted to one than the other. But the important thing is that overall I am controlling my own remote.
#4 Invest or re-invest in personal relationships: I am now in regular contact with two buddies from college I haven’t spoken to in years. Ditto for some of my high school crowd. Take advantage of technology to re-connect with those you have lost touch with and to connect more frequently with the ones who you are close to. My sister and I talk more than ever. My husband and I are rediscovering the joys of spontaneous afternoon outings. We just went to a street fair and stocked up on whimsical gifts for our grand kids and bought a box of Greek pastries – just for us.
#5 Fan the flames of your curiosity: Ask questions. Stay eager to get out of your box. Explore your community’s needs. Develop ways to help others. I have a friend whose husband and buddies created and initiated a school safety program now in eighteen of their city’s public schools – and has expanded into helping adults read and mentoring and tutoring disadvantaged youth. Another friend volunteers weekly at a children’s grief center which provides free of charge help and support for children who have lost close family members.
I am so very happy my sons have grown into caring, involved and loving dads. But I miss those caring, involved and loving little boys too. Just yesterday, however, I was assured by one of my sons that although I was no longer the hub, I was still a very important spoke. I hope he speaks for all of them.
Keep Preserving Your Bloom,