By Dana Gornall
Being a parent is all about being adaptable.
Whether it’s finding places to use a breast pump while out running errands or on breaks at work. Or maybe it’s changing an entire weekend of plans because your 4-year old got hit with a bout of stomach flu and is now puking all over the upholstery of your minivan on the way to that amusement park you’ve been dying to take the family to.
Adaptability is learned quickly, without choice. We either suck it up and find a Plan B, Plan C or Plan D, or we are condemned to live out our lives filled with anxiety.
As they grow and become teens, our lives change along with them. Days and nights once filled with family dinners around the table, and evenings taken up with dance and soccer, now suddenly are replaced with quick farewells: “Bye, I’m headed over to Kyle’s house.” The door shutting behind them as they pull out of the driveway, bass in their speakers turned up way too high, and their taillights trailing down the street.
I’d like to say I have adapted gracefully, but truthfully, I haven’t.
My son took a second shift job while attending the community college part time, and I rarely see him anymore. He lives here, yes, but we seem to have conversations while one of us is half—or mostly asleep. Right before I leave for work, I pop my head into his room, tell him I am leaving, ask him to cut the lawn or wash up his dishes, say that I love him. He mumbles back that he loves me too and presses his head back into the pillow.
I don’t see him again until well after I am in bed.
After he is done with work, he hangs out every night with his girlfriend and friends. I don’t like it and think he needs to be home more, but he is also 19-years old and headstrong. I’ve pleaded, I’ve insisted, I’ve bribed, but it is what it is and he chooses his lifestyle over and over again.
So we have our 1 a.m. talks.
Every night after coming in, he finds his way to my room and tells me he is home. Some nights, I am so tired I barely mumble a reply and press my head back into the pillow. But many nights, I tear myself from my dreams and ask him about his day, albeit groggily. Sometimes he will sit on the bed or kneel on the floor to pet the dog, resting his head on his arm. We talk a little about his job or what is going on in the news.
Some nights, he tells me he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. I find myself giving him a pep talk, reassuring him that I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was his age either (still don’t) and most people are the same; he will figure it out and this is the perfect time in his life to do just that. Sometimes, I tell him I’m sad I don’t see him more and he apologizes and says he will try hang out more soon.
Sometimes, we laugh about the dog or stories about Grandma and Grandpa, or I ask him about the movie he went to see. Some nights, these talks are short and I can barely say more than a few words. Other nights, we talk for almost an hour and then I’m awake an hour more after that thinking about everything that was said.
I miss family dinners around the table and nights on the couch when we are all watching a movie. I miss funny discussions in the car and hearing his voice come from his bedroom as he talks to friends over his headset while playing video games.
I miss seeing him get in pillow fights with his sister and pop out from his room to ask me what’s for dinner.
These days of us as one family unit are waning, and even though I fight tooth and nail to hold on, I know the holding is pointless. From the moment our children take their first step they are learning how to walk away, little by little.
Being a parent means learning to adapt. It means understanding that life isn’t about points on a timeline or plots on a map. We take it as we go, we adjust, we learn and we change, no matter how much that change can hurt.
And so for now, I’ll gladly take our talks at 1 am.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak