Friday, April 22, 2016

Growing up, gaining strength

It used to be that if some piece of furniture needed to be moved, Bill and I would do it together. Our fondness for deals on used furniture early in our marriage meant that we rarely had anything delivered. Many memories of my twenties include walking backwards under the impossible weight of one side of a couch or table. Bill tried to be patient with my distance runner arms and limited strength, but my memories also include Bill sighing with impatience every time I had to put my side down to take a break, which was frequently.
            “You could have married someone burlier, if that was important to you,” I’d remind him.
            I’m not sure when it was that I moved my last piece of heavy furniture, and I certainly didn’t note it as a milestone, but one by one, as Jacob, Liam and Teenasia have grown, each one of them has surpassed me in strength—and not just by a little. Early in her eighth grade year, I commented to Teenasia, who is shorter than I, that I thought she was now probably stronger. She nodded with a bit of an eye roll that suggested this was very obvious, and then picked me up and moved me to a different part of the kitchen. I think Bill might still choose me over sixth-grade Jamie, as a moving partner, if we were the only two choices available, but more likely, he’d just wait for Teenasia or Liam to get home.
            There’s much about parenting older kids that makes me wistful for the younger years—toothless smiles; matching Easter dresses; plastic dinosaurs. But as my children grow up, I have to say that if given the opportunity to go back in time, I’d be glad to visit our younger selves, but I wouldn’t want to stay there. I like having kids who are physically stronger than me. It’s interesting to have sons who have gone further than I ever did in math and foreign language studies. I appreciate being able to text Liam at track practice and ask him to bring home a loaf of bread for dinner. So many parts of parenting involve helping children master bits and pieces of their own lives. What I’m discovering is as mastery comes, the parent and child relationship shifts. Less of my time is spent telling Jacob and Liam what to do, and more time is spent asking them questions about their activities; their thoughts; their plans. I am carrying less weight—not just in terms of furniture, but in terms of mental energy—because of the emerging adults I see.  And what I carry for the boys, for the most part, is what they ask me to carry. Unlike younger kids, who insist on doing things themselves, even in the face of disaster, my young adult sons are smart enough to know the areas where Bill and I are still ahead. They won’t ask me about Ultimate Frisbee plays, but they will question me about running or writing; they will never come to me for tech support, but they’ll approach with questions about faith or relationships. Jacob wouldn’t sign a lease for next year’s apartment without Bill and me seeing it; Liam needed to know we thought he was choosing correctly, when he decided on Santa Clara University.
            And while my daughters still hover in the preteen and early adolescent phase, I see occasional flashes of the young women they will become. Mixed in with their growing physical strength, I see emotional strength developing.
            A couple weeks ago, we had the hardwood floor of our bedroom refinished. We had to remove both dressers and the bed so that the work could be done. Bill and Liam did all the moving and I wasn’t needed.
            I didn’t mind stepping aside. My strength will be needed for other things.

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