When my daughter was little she once asked, “When did you become all grownup?”
Years later I can finally answer. As she proudly slides her new driver’s license into the plastic sleeve of her pink wallet, and my elderly father sadly removes his from a worn leather billfold, I realize I am now a grownup.
I wave goodbye to both children and parents as I search for a brake that is absent. I am standing in the middle of a country road where my children rush by heading for tomorrow and my parents pass in the other direction, fall foliage outlining the colors of change.
My daughter is my youngest and the last of my three children to drive. Both the relief and accomplishment of nearing the end of those gripping-the-dashboard training sessions felt like my crossing-over point. Our first lessons were around the neighborhood where my kids, each in their own time, inched forward, peering over the steering wheel as I breathed deeply like moments during labor where the breath helps to welcome the separation from our children. Main roads brought deeper breathing, tighter gripping, imagined breaking and wilder hand gestures that inevitably led to “Mom, stop doing that — you’re making things worse!”
My husband has been relegated to the back seat because my behavior pales in comparison to his overall panic when my daughter is behind the wheel. And my father’s stop-and-go driving and swerving were no easier for us to manage. Adulthood is giving our children the gift of independence while simultaneously helping our parents face their increased dependence on us. It is a grownup’s “tween” years.
My father sent sweaters from his closet to my husband and sons. I smell his aftershave in the worn wool. “I don’t need winter clothing anymore,” he confides and I decide not to ask why. My daughter buys new sweaters for school, and I buy Tampax to put under her sink, no longer needing them in our bathroom closet. All are road markers pointing to the freedom, glory and inevitable losses of my life as an adult.
My phone rings more often these days with my parents checking in for comfort. “Deary, I just like to hear your voice,” confides my 84-year-old mother. My father calls and repeats the conversation we had the previous day. “Yes, Dad, we received the sweaters and thanks a lot,” I say, knowing I will repeat the same tomorrow. Perhaps many “thank yous” are what he needs to know he’s given enough before he can rest.
My daughter calls to ask permission to keep the car later, promising to be home by midnight. “Thank you,” she says as I, too, cherish feeling appreciated as I sit in the swivel chair of adulthood at our family switchboard.
My daughter is absorbed in “My Space” as I practice my handstand for yoga class against her bedroom wall. My T-shirt rides up, revealing my small breasts that contrast with my daughter’s full bosoms. Nourishing my daughter has become a letting go and a holding on. It’s a grownup handstand — an upside-down balancing act where my perspective has shifted as I am pulled by parents and children, forever trying to hold myself straight and strong.
When the kids were young, life moved so quickly that my time for self-contemplation and reflection only lasted as long as a child’s nap, an unaccompanied birthday party or a swim lesson. Then I’d hear, “Momma, momma!” and I once again was embracing a little one and my role as a young mother.
I may have appeared grownup to others, but to myself I was always reaching for that moment where I felt confident in balancing life’s ceramic plates decorated with images of a woman, a mother, a wife, a psychologist, a writer, an athlete and so much more. When I could manage it all with grace, I’d be a grownup.
But it was only as my daughter pulled the car into a parking space, making sure to stay in the lines, that I, too, felt I’d arrived. It is the line drawn by my children as they mature and the line set by my parents as they age that guides me toward that in-between space of my life as a grownup — a space that is marked by both freedom and responsibilities and the beauty of gracefully growing with those around me.