Training in child development in college along with years of experience in early childhood education, left me feeling well prepared for my own children’s younger years. Ron often looked to me when there were questions and I was usually able to guide us to an answer. But once preadolescence hit, I felt as clueless as a newbie. My expectations and resolve seemed challenged daily. The little kids that thought their parents knew the answers grew to discover there was more than one possible reply –many of which looked more attractive than those coming out of their parent’s mouth! Then, certainty that the only correct answer was their own – or at the very least that of their friends – stood firm against any amount of evidence to the contrary. These were tough years for all involved. We have all been there, on one end or the other, in varying degrees of turmoil. But knowing this was part of the well charted path to adulthood did not relieve the daily push and tug.
. Our two children were as different as night and day. Our son’s quiet nature brought back the pain that had lived beneath my own shyness at his age. I worried that he felt the same unease and struggle to fit in. I tried to ask, but his obvious discomfort with the subject did not offer any insights into his world. Computers and video games were his choices as companions, and he became an expert at their use. We tried to limit time spent with electronic entertainment, but enforcement was difficult to maintain without vigilant attention – attention drawn to many other battles in the realm. He excelled at school but did not engage in many social activities, despite the fact that we were eager to facilitate participation. He did not live in the land of ‘no’s’ that had surrounded my own childhood. I was comforted in knowing he had a few solid friends, and in remembering how important that had been for me. He appeared to be an apple fallen not far from my branch of the tree.
Our daughter excelled at social activity – maybe too much so. She laughed and talked freely, was constantly at friend’s houses and was involved in a number of school activities. She was a solid B student despite habits of forgetting and losing homework. Teachers often suggested she was unfocused and not working at her full potential. She was also prone to impulsive behavior, and experimented with the dangers offered so freely around her while away from home. We received calls from the police when we were certain she was safe in bed at a girlfriend’s house! She appeared to be an apple fallen not far from her father’s branch of the tree, creating a different set of worries.
Rounding everyone up for a family dinner a few days a week seemed to be a ‘mission impossible’. Baseball and softball games, along with a variety of other reasons to be absent at dinner time, always seemed to call in a louder voice. I often found myself alone, waiting for everyone to come home for dinner, frequently disappointed in the turn out. It was not a priority for anyone but me. I had grown up with the entire family around the table each and every night to eat what my mother had prepared – not that conversation or sharing the day’s events were served with the food. I had hoped to change that, but my illusions of what the family I was creating should look like were rapidly fading.
Vacations were an area of conflict between me and Ron. I fought the flow of money to fun and frolic, with little – if any – set aside for savings or emergencies. Despite my reluctance we bought a popular timeshare and used it to trade for vacations in places like the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. But there was a positive side to the spending that was hard for even me to resist. The trips forced us to be together as a family for extended periods of time – a rare occurrence at home. All four of us shared the new adventures and activities. The daily flood of work and school and sports and friends did not follow us. There was more laughter as we bobbed to the surface to catch a breath of uncluttered air.
The kids kept getting older and busier and more independent. I felt my role changing, felt the intensity of need for my help and availability lessen, as definition of my own future years became hazy. I wasn’t ready to sink into oblivion. So I started to look for what I needed elsewhere, stopped waiting for everyone to come home, and took to the road myself. I went back to school to get another certification to make more money. I went away on weekends to visit friends. I ran in any direction that presented itself to avoid the growing loneliness and frustration; and to hunt for clarity in the developing story of life beyond motherhood.