Tom's Take: Letting Children Go As They Grow
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
I consider 2016 the first full year that none of our three kids will truly need their mom or me anymore. Oh sure, the Bank of Mom and Dad isn’t going anywhere, and they’ll still need us around for advice, guidance and hopefully just because they like us. But as far as being absolutely necessary in a keep-your-butt-alive-another-day kind of way? Those days are gone.
Our oldest, Emma, has survived in Los Angeles now for five years—the equivalent of a baby moose finally growing too big to be easily eaten by bears. Our middle child, Joe, graduated high school last year and is neck-deep working toward his dream of becoming a firefighter. Our youngest, Sam, just got his license last month and has been asserting his independence in various ways, like choosing Kanye West over Jack White—which so far is the only real instance of any of our kids disappointing me.
When they were small, it seemed their reliance on us would never end, and sometimes, I’d catch myself dreaming of this day. I’d always imagine it kind of looking like the cover of one of those serious, sailboat-into-the-sunset Father’s Day cards, except Vickie was with me at the helm and the deck below was loaded with good wine and strong coffee.
This is not to say that all those years of being parents of little ones was in any way a burden. Quite the opposite. We LOVED being Mom and Dad when they were squirts—even at their messiest, loudest, most tantrum-throwing worst. I’ve changed diapers that qualified for federal Superfund dollars and ordered time-outs with the authority of a five star general. I’ve seen runny noses that would’ve terrified Stephen King and broken up fights better suited for alleys than living rooms. We’ve shushed and hushed and chased monsters from closets. We’ve seen wide eyes of wonder mystified by Santa Claus and calculus homework. We’ve praised good grades, applauded good deeds and judged who was a good friend (and who wasn’t). We’ve tended to hurt feelings, broken arms, broken ankles, and the special mortification that comes when your teenage daughter realizes that the cheap dye job just turned her hair not the deep brown promised on the box, but purple. We’ve survived learner’s permits, youth sports, Chuck E. Cheese’s, and Disneyland at Christmas. We’ve gone from the call of dooty to Call of Duty, to college. You want to know where in the world Carmen Sandiego has been? Ask us. We know.
But that part of our life is ending, and I was honestly beginning to mourn it until a recent weekend when I heard the great Bill Murray on NPR talking about his adult kids. “It’s funny,” he said, “you think that there’s an expiration date on them and there just isn’t. They have an eternal shelf life. It’s not like, ‘OK, that one’s on his own now,’ you know. It’s not like a balloon that you let go of and it—well, ‘That’ll land in someone else’s yard.’ It doesn’t happen that way; the balloon always comes back to you. It’s kind of nice, really.”
And so instead of missing what is gone, I’m choosing to focus on what’s ahead, because there’s still so much from them I can’t wait to see.
However, make no mistake: Vickie and me...? We still want that boat.