As I’ve written before, raising a family is a “forest for the trees” experience. Life moves frenetically in a whirl of appointments, practices, homework, projects and activities; it is such that you can run for lengthy periods without noting both where you are and how far you’ve come. It’s as if you’re working through the trail’s underbrush and you don’t pause to survey the surroundings until you’ve reached a spot where the forest has thinned, such as a tree-line atop a ridge. I’ve chronicled such personal moments back to 2008 and this past Labor Day was another such moment, where I found myself – and my Better Half – perched atop one of the highest ridges that we’ve encountered for many a mile.
When I began writing this site, she was in middle school. Only recently confirmed in our church and yet to drive, to date, to hold a job, to graduate, to leave for college and then, return. And now, she is married. If anything gives a man pause, it is giving his daughter’s hand in marriage at the altar. Some might deride it as intensely old-fashioned and antiquated, but this signifies to any father not only the turning of a page but the end of an entire chapter. After I took my seat, I watched this young woman and rolled through memories back to her infancy, back to the first one when she turned her head towards me in response to that sing-song name that I called out as she lay across the room in a maternity ward bassinet, the same name that I repeatedly sang to her while in utero. It was the same as I watched my two sons, Middle – home from college and reading aloud a selected poem for the ceremony – and Youngest, only a freshly minted high school sophomore and yet towering above everyone else in the bridal party. They grow and mature and we are left to wonder, when did this happen?
It was a high ridge upon which to perch.
When things wound down and we’d returned home, I took the opportunity to look back at the terrain that we had crossed during the previous year. It was a vista of twisted trees and thick, thorn-riddled underbrush that tore at clothing and skin alike. Managing a mother suffering from years of degenerative paranoid dementia, culminating in her early morning death only months ago after a series of moves through multiple care levels in different facilities. Disagreeing with a facility that refused to honor her final wishes, duly codified in writing and signed by a physician, further confirmed by her in a moment of coherence. Managing increased personal debility arising from a long-ago encounter with lymphoma, now sufficiently advanced to force a move to a new, less physically challenging house. And culminating with a new medical episode that lasted for months. How do you manage through all of this? You jettison everything non-essential and spend your energies on the most immediate requirements of the circumstances. You lean heavily upon family and friends; my blessing was a wonderful wife and stalwart friends, a helpful future son-in-law and a youngest son who shouldered the increased physical and emotional load with grace and maturity. And writing? It had already slowed as my mother degenerated and with the onset of the other issues, it stopped completely. In the moment, what is there to say?
But the house is brought both figuratively and literally back into order and you regain breathing room. I now realize that there’s still much more to say about family and how what’s occurring in today’s world impacts our roles as parents. More comments about educating the kids and setting them on the path to responsible adulthood; about kids and both politics and money; and how we as parents have to adapt our communications with our nascent-adult children. Most importantly, there is much to be said about the other end of the age spectrum as we begin to look out for our own parents, who are now going to face new challenges for which many are ill-prepared. This is perhaps the greatest stress for middle-aged parents, bearing responsibility for the generations that both succeed and precede them. It isn’t easy and the challenges will only grow in a time when the family resources are further stretched.
There will certainly be other aspects of parenthood and family to be addressed, because the kids grow and change. As do the questions and challenges.