There’s No Such Thing As A Straight Line.

Here in midlife, inspirational slogans are as cheap as the Trader Joe’s wine we’ve been drinking. You’re as young as you feel. Dance like nobody’s looking. The one about wearing purple. My favorite is from a film director (I can’t remember which one but he’s probably European) who said that it’s not a woman’s body but her body of work that he finds sexy.

Slogans are cheap. That’s not to say they’re not meaningful, but they’re also pat and mood-dependent and damn aspirational. I’ll dance like nobody’s looking, except when I feel ugly or exhausted or insecure. Slogans are about the life we’d like to lead. Epiphanies are something else entirely. Epiphanies are about the life we’re already living. They explode like little bombs in your head — sudden insights into the real meaning or the essential nature of something. I had one recently. For a long time I believed that as my children grew older they would need me less. It makes a certain sense. Babies are helpless and totally dependent. Toddlers can amuse themselves, maybe for ten minutes at a time, but still. Kids go out to play and help themselves to snacks and don’t require lullabies to fall asleep. Teenagers are gone. And then they move out. Real gone.

Except that’s not how it works. My children are 18, 20, and 23, and they’re all in limbo. I suppose transition is the diplomatic term. Satchel is taking a year off, apparently to perfect his omelettes, before starting college. Hannah has been on a break from Barnard for nearly a year and is mulling a move overseas. Eli just relocated to Portland, Oregon, and is looking for a job and a house. And they need me. For nuts-and-bolts guidance. For free-form support. For humor when prospects are humorless and gravity when they can’t find the center. For a sense of place when they are everyplace and no place. It’s a different kind of need, not as quantifiable as it used to be. Nobody’s life will be in danger if I don’t hold a hand and nobody is going hungry if I don’t buy groceries. But the emotional stakes feel higher.

Here’s the thing: life isn’t linear. We don’t move in one direction from dependence to independence, from needy to capable, from youthful to mature. It’s a mixed-up trajectory. Sometimes those kids are sages on the mountaintop. Sometimes I’m a babe in the woods. What a surprise.

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One Comment

  1. Chip rives
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful synopsis of parenthood w kids that age. I hope I can provide for my boys the unwavering and loving support you are giving your kids. In the meantime, i will continue to scar my feet with legos and insist on goodnight kisses amd bedtime stories whether they want them or not!! Look forward to lunch.

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