The father of one of my son’s good friends died recently – unexpectedly, and way too young. This got me thinking (again) about what it means to me to be a parent, and what I’d want my kids to know when I die. As one of my favorite writers, Leo Buscaglia, said, “Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.”
When I was younger and childless (or child-free, as I considered it at the time), I wasn’t one of those people who are fascinated with babies. I stood impatiently by, not the least bit interested in joining in, while my friends cooed into baby carriages, bounced toddlers on their knees, and goo-goo-ga-ga’ed at drooling infants. I didn’t even know whether the objects of their admiration were cute or funny, because I couldn’t be bothered with looking at them. I was just eager to move on to wherever we’d been headed.
Somewhere further along the line, my feelings changed. I’m not sure why – maybe it was one of those days when you ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
When I was in my early thirties, one of my brothers asked if I was planning to have kids. The notion had kind of poked its way into my head by then, but I still wasn’t sure it was a good idea. At that point, my biggest objection was that I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it – that I wouldn’t be a good parent. His perspective, being the father of three young girls, was that just the fact that I worried about being a good parent meant that I would be one. “Too many people don’t give it a moment’s thought before they jump in,” he observed, “and for a lot of folks, it shows. If you’re worried about whether you’ll do a good job or not, it probably means you will – you’ll be a thoughtful parent.”
Twenty-odd years later, my two boys are mostly grown – The Angler will very soon be “legal” and Rock Star is a precocious seventeen-year-old. Many moons ago older women would tell me, with a nostalgic sigh, that I should enjoy every minute – the nerve-wracking newborn cries, the Terrible Twos, the tug-of-war of the teen years – because it would all go by so fast, and my little ones would soon be on their way.
Every mom comes to know – probably just a little too late – that this advice is true. By the time you realize that, your kids are already beyond the hugs and kisses, the tug on your hand to share a new discovery, the belief that you are the font of all true love and information. And suddenly they’re tooling proudly down the driveway in your car, with hardly a backward glance.
Before you kids fly the coop for good, this is what I want you to know: my life is immeasurably richer, more joyful, more exciting and fun simply because you’re in it. Sure, I have some grey hairs and wrinkles now, but I would have had them anyway. Despite some nail-biters, frustrations, and late nights full of worry, having you guys in my life keeps me younger, rather than aging me. In keeping up with your interests, I’ve continued to canoe, hike and camp, bait hooks with worms and gut fresh-caught fish, go screaming down water slides and jumping in leaf piles. I’ve stood in the rain and mud at music festivals and attended concerts of great bands I might never even have heard of, and have the privilege of hanging out with some fabulously interesting, adventurous and talented young folks. And I’ve laughed – oh my God, how I’ve laughed at your antics and stories!
I’m incredibly proud of both of you – you don’t have to become a rocket scientist or discover a cure for cancer to merit that pride – it’s yours just for being you. And as the posting going around Facebook right now says, to save my kids I’d catch a grenade, take a bullet, stand in front of a train, and ask God to take me instead of you. I really would. I love you guys – and don’t you ever forget it.