I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I liked it better when he used to write about his kids.” It’s true. I wrote about my children all the time. But then something happened:
They grew up.
Our four children are all adults now or on the verge of adulthood. They have relationships, jobs, serious schoolwork, plans, uncertainties and lots going on in their lives that really isn’t anyone’s business. The last thing I want to do is embarrass them.
And yet for years I did. When I first started writing this column, I didn’t hold much back when it came to nap times, stitches, school, squabbles, sports and, of course, the farting. Nothing wrong with writing about the farting.
At one point, though, I started asking them, “You mind if I write about [recent awkward yet humorous event]?” This was because they had learned to read. That’s probably when and why we bestow privacy on our children: when they can bust you.
Their privacy also has to do with their independence. Their actions are no longer necessarily interactions with Deb and me. They go their own way, making decisions that result in a broken bone here, a tattoo there.
And yet we continue to worry. We will never stop worrying.
At one point, I thought we had hit the sweet spot. It was probably three years ago. The older ones were in university and CEGEP and the youngest was a newly minted teenager who still liked us. Deb and I could feel satisfaction that we had done a good job as parents, that we could look on with relief and say, “It’s all right, they got this.”
But the sweet spot never lasts. There is usually some cause to fret. For example, a small thing: right now our eldest Emily is visiting Turkey. Risks are everywhere, I tell myself, but Turkey! It’s the bungee-jumping of countries!
James, meanwhile, will be attending Concordia University in the fall and playing basketball. We’re proud and excited for him as he gains increasing independence.
Sounds good, right? But university sports are fraught with risk. Last Christmas, he got nailed in the kidney and ended up overnight in the hospital. The next morning, the doctor asked us to join him in a nearby empty room.
“This is the room.” I thought. “This is the room where they tell bad news. They’ve found something on his kidney and now he has to tell us. This is the private freakout room.” My heart sank and my head began to swim. “It’s just a bruise,” the doctor told us. “He’ll be fine.”
He’ll be fine.
They’ll be fine.
I could write so much about the children, how Abby is going through all the drama that comes with being nearly 16, about the worries we have for her, for all of them. I could write about how we spent a good chunk of Tuesday at yet another hospital after concussion-prone Katie whacked her head at work, a visit that began with a phone call: “Dad? I have a problem.” I could write about dropping everything and jumping in a car to rescue them, no matter how old they are.
I could write about their crises, their heartbreaks and the disappointments, decisions and indecisions, the ups that seem so up and the downs that feel so down. But I don’t because, unlike when they were children, their stories are no longer simply cute. They have impact on their lives. Their stories are theirs, their futures, their reality. Life for these young adults is suddenly real. Deb and I are reduced to spectators with a standing offer of support, shelter and short-term storage.
When I first starting writing about my children, I was like most young parents: I believed they were the most unique, amazing creatures that had ever lived. No other parents had ever undergone such discoveries. I know now that every parent feels this way.
I don’t pretend, then, that we’re the only parents who worry about their young adult children, who will go on worrying as they get married, have children or decide not to do any of those things. I’m not telling anything new here.
The only thing new is that it’s a bit of a surprise.
I expect there’s another sweet spot somewhere down the road. Why? Because they’re good kids, with smart heads and compassionate hearts. They have an exciting, unpredictable future ahead of them, and I expect that theirs will be much like their parents: unpredictable, chaotic, happy. And that’ll be sweet indeed.