This is my first winter as an empty-nester, and that gives lots of time for reflections about life. Essentially, I am now officially retired as a mother. It’s a career I chose wholeheartedly and was committed to for more than 40 years. And like so many who retire from a career, I find myself wondering what I am now. Is this a stepping stone for a new career or a dead end?
Life with 9 kids was never boring. There was seldom time for me to consider what I wanted to do, and little time for leisure. Now I have to figure out new ways to use my time, new things to focus my attention on. It’s kind of exciting to be able to come and go without having to think about who’s home, who’s had supper, and where I need to be. But it’s also kind of lonely. So this is sort of my message to my kids: Don’t forget me now that you’re grown and on your own.
For eighteen to twenty years of your life, I was part of your world, almost 24×7. I was there when you got up and usually up when you went to bed. I heard about day to day events, laughed at your jokes and listened to your worries. I poured my whole life into loving and teaching you and enjoying watching you grow. And I never resented your need to grow up and be on your own. I want you to be happy, productive adults with great lives. But I’d really love to feel like I’m still a part of it.
I miss that interaction, just hearing how you’re doing, what you’re thinking about. Not because I want to be “in your business,” but just because I love you. Why does growing up seem to mean almost discarding the ones who’ve loved and raised you? Why does this hurry-hurry world leave so little room for the little things? The phone call, the text message, a photo or two, a visit just to see how you’re doing…those things that I did with you while you were here. I guess I hoped that I was leading by example and you would naturally keep the chain of communication going as you went out into the world.
Now that I’ve joined the realm of the retired, I understand more poignantly why my grandmothers always cried when we came to visit, and then cried again when we left. They cried because once again they felt loved and connected to their children and grandchildren. For those visits, with all the chaos and irritations and stresses, were a connection rekindled. It was a love touch, a reminder that they were not forgotten or left behind. And I feel sad that I never recognized that need while my grandparents were here. I wish I had understood this and made more time to be with them and know them better.
Thankfully, I’ve learned how important this connection has been with my own parents, and I’ve made a commitment to “be there” more often. The last year of my dad’s life was so hard, with him being sick and disabled, and then in the clutches of dementia. My gift to Dad was to be there, even if he didn’t know who I was anymore. I spent much of that year overnight in hospitals with him, trying to sleep on hard chairs. Often I had to drive an hour to do those overnight stays. But I knew that his time with us was limited, and I would NEVER regret having invested that time and love into him. He’d invested his life into me, now it was my turn to give back some of that love.
It’s kind of funny, we hear so much about the internet and the power of “being connected,” but we are less connected than in all previous generations. We have tried to replace the intricacies of eye contact and physical touch with sterile electronic impulses, and it just doesn’t feel the same. I’m thankful for social media, and the way we can hear from each other across the miles. But a text message isn’t the same as hearing a voice on the phone, and an electronic photo can never replace the warmth of a hug.
Having just come into the “Christmas season” where everything is about giving gifts, I would like to remind all of you sons and daughters and grandchildren that the best gift you can give is the gift of your time. Invest in real memories, not just electronic ones. A visit if you’re nearby, or a phone call when you’re further away is a gift of love. Take the TIME. Trust me, when those loved ones have passed on, you will NEVER regret giving them those gifts.