Monday, August 25, 2014

Learning to listen

Our oldest grandchild just started kindergarten, and his sister is about to begin her first year of preschool.

While handling those changes, their mother — our daughter — is also in the midst of a major do-it-yourself home renovation project. As she and her husband attempt to put their expanded house back together, their "babies" are stepping out into the world, meeting new people and experiencing new situations. It's a difficult period fraught with both physical and emotional exhaustion.

I remember that stage of life. Our children were also little when my husband Ralph and I built our first house on Cape Cod, a do-it-yourself venture where we did everything from designing the floor plan to stuffing insulation. As I walked across my daughter's newly-installed wooden floor to her freshly painted kitchen, I looked up and noticed a small unpainted section of wall by the ceiling.

"Oh that," she said as I pointed it out. "Yeah, it was too high to reach. We'll get back to it at some point and finish it up."

Her words triggered a memory flashback.

"Finish it now," I wanted to say. "Don't make the same mistakes we did. Don't wait for 'someday' when you'll have more time and motivation because tomorrows like that are few and far between."

But I didn't say those words. I know how hard it is to juggle multiple projects and knew it wouldn't help to add more tasks to my daughter's already overburdened schedule. Instead of offering advice, I simply nodded and listened. I tried to practice one of the new lessons I've been trying to grasp — when to offer suggestions to our adult children and when to be quiet.

Our grandchildren may be just starting school, but Ralph and I are still in the midst of our own education. As much as I'd like to be that wise fount of knowledge and advice to our adult kids, I know how important it is for children of all ages to learn things on their own.

No stage of life is free of challenges. Medical issues, home repairs and financial concerns all generate complicated questions as do the problems of figuring out where to live, what type of work to do or if you should send your children to preschool. As a parent of adult children, I've come to realize how my parental role has changed. It is no longer my job to supply fast solutions as much as it is to lend an ear, to be there for support, encouragement and sometimes simply to listen.

When my kids were little, I healed most hurts with hugs and kisses. Although I no longer have that power, my two daughters do. As I watch them attend to the needs of their own children, I catch a glimpse of the transitions of time as we experience different degrees of empathy, love, passion and reaction to the everyday challenges of life.

The end of August is a time of transition. Kids begin school, and patterns change as families rush to complete summer projects and adjust to different schedules. It has been a long time since I felt the tug of society's tether, yet recent visits with my adult children and grandchildren have refreshed the memory of those busy days.

Do I miss the turmoil of those earlier years? Not really. Do I mind the loss of simple fixes? Maybe, just a little. The truth is, I wouldn't want to relive the time when I was too overwhelmed to finish projects and too tired to care. Sometimes it takes a little corner of unfinished paint to remind us of how far we've come and how much there is still is to learn.

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