Tag Archives: parenting

Passages: kids grow up

Passages: n. transition from one point to another

This is a week of two important passages. The first was the wedding of my sister’s older son, Daniel, in Nashville. The second is the departure of my youngest, Wylie, for Europe and the far east.

Both are occasions for rejoicing and for promising adventure. Both leave their respective mothers with mixed feelings as the sons fly the coop and enter new life stages where Mom is increasingly irrelevant.


Nashville: Family and friends came from all over to celebrate with Daniel and Lillie. A fabulous time was had by all as the two tribes spent the weekend together getting to know each other. As happy as she is for the newlyweds, and despite the fact that they will be living only two blocks away, my sister had a full-on meltdown as she realized that little Danny was grown-up Daniel… a man whose wife will now be his closest confidant.  (Of course my sister hasn’t been that for years, but when you’re going to dissolve in tears you gotta have some sort of excuse.)

Back in Vancouver: Two days after we got back it was my turn for the meltdown. My youngest child left home this afternoon. It shouldn’t be a big deal; he’s 25 for godssake. It’s not even the first time – he went off to college at 18, and until the past few months he’s hardly been back home. But since September he’s been my housemate in order to save $$ for his big trip.


He took Amtrak to Seattle, where he’ll catch a flight to Dublin and meet up with a friend from LA. They’ll bum around together for a couple of weeks then the friend goes back to work and Wylie is on his own.

So far he’s lined up a three-week stint WWOOFing (working on an organic farm in exchange for room and board)  in Sweden, and then he heads to who knows where… all the way to the far east until his money runs out, he says.

What’s freaking me out is that he tossed his cell phone and will be checking in at an internet cafe only occasionally.  I’m so used to having my kids at email or cellphone distance…

Just imagine what it was like when the pioneers crossed the plains and it could be months before loved ones got a letter, and even then the letter was itself months old!

As used to instant communication as I’ve become, Wylie has never known anything else, so it could be very challenging to be so out of touch with friends and family.

Now that I’ve had him around for awhile, “I’ve grown accustomed to his face”.  He’s a lot of fun and can make me laugh harder than anyone I know  – except his brother.

He also can be irritatingly helpful. Like when I’m struggling with some tedious and cumbersome chore, he sweeps in with a really simple way of accomplishing the task in 10% of the time.   Example: last fall I was finely hand-slicing 8 quarts of green tomatoes and onions for our famous family “Spanish Pickle”.  Wylie says, “hey, why don’t we use the KitchenAid slicer?”  Duhhhh! – I use the machine for all sorts of other slicing and grating operations; it’s just that my mom always sliced the veggies by hand, so I just kept doing it her way.

Adjustments all around.

Prattle protrudes on Grandma’s nap

Prattle: n. a sound that is meaningless, repetitive, and suggestive of the chatter of children

Protrude: v. to jut out from the surrounding surface or context

I’ve been visiting my daughter’s family in Oakland since Tuesday. When the boys (4 & 7) are at school, Heather and I do grownup things (Asian Art Museum in SF -yes!, planning their new veggie garden, reading the paper). When they’re home, we play.

After a few days of this I was ready for a nap. The house is very small, so I curled up on Alexander’s bed while he and his brother played in the next room.

Their high little voices went on and on and on, sometimes rising with distress or excitement, sometimes burbling softly like a fountain.  But the chatter never ceased. Clearly they process all their thoughts out loud. It’s a sweet sound – unless you’re trying to take a nap or think.

It’s so different when you live with adults. Our processing is mostly internal. Years ago I read a study that said that most married couples don’t talk a lot – though women talk more than men, as a rule. (I recall some ridiculously low number, but can’t find it now.)

It’s a miracle that mothers with little ones at home get anything done at all.

Parenting problem: parceling out a 25-year old

My ex and I have been living separately for more than six years, since our youngest went off to college. Most of that time the ex has had a girlfriend (several different ones, actually) so when this son came home for a visit he stayed with me and the ex would come by to see him when it suited his schedule.

Now the ex is girlfriendless and lonely.

The son, almost 25, has been working in LA since college (personal assistant in the film industry AKA “dogsbody”), but is ready to re-assess his life plan. He wants to move home for a few months of earning money rent-free with the goal of doing some foreign volunteer/travel as a way of gaining perspective.

Suddenly the ex wants to know if I intend to hog his company, or if he gets equal time.  Crap!!! Our son is a grown man and his dad is ready for some kind of custody battle.

I’m not playing.  Our son is no dummy. I don’t think he’ll play either. He can choose. And maybe he’ll decide that coming home was a bad idea after all..

Our two older children each did a 6-month boomerang stay with us after graduation but at that time the family was intact.  They turned out ok and our time together did too, but the first month or two were uncomfortable.

The “custody” issue is unique, but the boomerang issue is not: about 18 million young adults ages 18 to 34 now live back at home. Someone has even written a book about it: Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living With Your Parents the Second Time Around by Elina Furman.

One advice column suggests creating a contract with the kid:

Writing this down in a “contract” that you all sign is a great way to make sure you’re working from the same page. You don’t need a formal document; create your own by using the following points as a guide:

  1. Jim will move back into his old room beginning June 1 and will have saved enough money to move out by _____(date).
  2. He will pay $100 a month for his room and $100 a month for food, beginning with his second monthly paycheck.
  3. He will be responsible for buying and caring for his own clothing, doing his own laundry and purchasing items for personal use.
  4. He agrees to wash the car every Saturday.
  5. He will alternate cooking and grocery shopping with Mom.
  6. He will contribute half the cost of cable TV.
  7. He may play music and watch TV in his room, but agrees to keep the volume low after midnight.

Parenting a parent

I just returned from Nashville where I was celebrating my mother’s 94th birthday.

Mom has lived for the past five years with my sister and brother-in-law in an apartment they built onto their home so she wouldn’t have to move to an assisted living facility. She is still in robust health and, in the instant, seems totally present and sharp. She carries on a conversation, responds appropriately to questions, laughs heartily at jokes.

When I come to visit this is where we start:

“So, tell me what you’ve been up to lately…” she asks. “How are you spending your time these days?”

The first time she asks this, I give her the full rundown of my five most interesting activities.

She nods approvingly, asks a couple of questions, which I answer.

However, two seconds after the conversation has ended, its content has disappeared without a trace into a hole where her memory used to be.

“So, tell me what you’ve been up to lately….”

We go through several iterations of this, and each time my answers get shorter and a little wackier.

Finally my sister rescues me. “Mom, we’ve already covered this. She TOLD you what she’s doing.”

Mom is embarrassed for about two seconds then immediately forgets that she’s been chastised. Fortunately my sister has become so skillful at managing her that she is ready with some potatoes: “Here. Sit and peel these.”

This is the least of what my sister has to put up with though. Mom can no longer follow the long arc of a magazine article or TV show nor does she do any handicrafts so she gets bored easily. She meanders into the kitchen every few minutes to ask when the next meal is happening, or if we’re going to the store, or if there’s any tea in the pot.

These are minor annoyances compared to the question she asks at least a dozen times a day: “May I be of any use?”

My sister saves up little tasks for this question. Setting the table, cutting up celery, washing lettuce, refreshing the flowers in a bouquet, wiping off a counter. But it’s like having a two-year-old – without the pleasure of seeing him grow ever more skillful as the months pass. I can’t believe how patient she is. Her husband too. So kind.

I’d have killed Mom by now.

I appreciate my sister’s saintliness especially because our mother was never one of those wonderful parents for whom no payback is too great. On the contrary, she was supremely focused on our dad and on her music career – we three kids were an afterthought – a duty she never got into, except as we reflected positively on herself. In fact looking over her scrapbooks – you’d hardly know she had kids. (Ditto grandkids.) They’re all about her.

Perhaps that’s why my sister and I have been such attentive parents. Our other sister was wiser than my mother and knew right off the bat that she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and chose to have no kids.

Of course if Mom had made the childless choice, I wouldn’t be here to write this blog.



When I answer the phone that’s all Heather says. “Pinkeye.”

She lets me register the visual (crusty goop from some over-productive internal glue factory) before she explains which of my grandchildren has this particular ailment at this time.

I get these calls every few months.




These are not complaints; they are reportage. Just the facts.

In the single word I see a hologram of my own maternal career. Staying up with a sick child. Worry. Exhaustion. Patience. This too shall pass… but what if it doesn’t?

Evenutally the symptoms evolve into an ordinary disease with a name, a short arc, and a happy ending. It’s just pinkeye, not the beginnings of a total-body staph infection. I can breathe again.

Until the next time.

That’s motherhood (and now grandmotherhood).