I hear people say that youth is wasted on the young. I’ve been thinking lately that, although it’s true, I also think wisdom is wasted on the aged. Sometimes. I’m 44 — and in the last few years I’ve been gaining wisdom that I truly wish I’d had in my teens and twenties. I suppose we all have times when we wish we knew then what we know now.
I face daily struggles with my kids — we all do — and sometimes things get pretty heated. We all say stupid things. I have a teen who lives his life on a low simmer and can instantly flair to a boiling rage over anything — and most times over nothing. During those times he says the typical teen stuff: I hate you, I can’t stand being around you, I can’t wait until I can move out and NEVER come back…
My relationship with my parents when I was growing up was never a hateful one. Overall, I think my teen years were pretty mild compared to others. But like every kid, there were things that they did that embarrassed or hurt or angered my self-absorbed teen-aged self. I’m beginning to see things in a different light now that I have children of my own…I see and understand things I wasn’t able to comprehend before.
Most people, when I tell them about my childhood, say that I lived a charmed life. I know I did. I grew up in a stable family — my parents stayed married, dad worked, mom stayed home. They worked to provide for our needs and also for the things we wanted — horses, pets, snowmobiles, vacations. There was never a day that I felt afraid that there wouldn’t be money for heat, electricity, or dinner. I had absolutely no concept of hard times or tightening belts to make ends meet. I always assumed it was because we didn’t have financial concerns.
Now that I have seven children I can see where times were tight when I was a child — it just wasn’t the focus. Mom and Dad wanted us to feel secure and loved — not worried over the family budget. I think back now to the huge garden we had on our New Hampshire farm. I detested picking peas and beans in the hot summer sun — it seemed like forever when I was out there weeding and picking, although it’s safe to say now that it probably took me an hour. All those hours upon hours of cleaning and preparing vegetables for canning and freezing fell upon my mother. I never heard her complain. She used to hum while she worked. I know mom had to be feeling sore and exhausted at the end of the day, but I never knew it. She gave and gave to us and at times went without so that her four heartbeats could have.
She did what she had to do.
My dad was a businessman. His job required him to take business trips. When I was little I would wait excitedly for him to come home to see what he’d brought back for me from his travels. One time he brought me fool’s gold — another, Mexican jumping beans. When I was older I resented his trips away (and envied him, too, for what I assumed were exciting travels) and wished he would stay home and be there. I realize now that those trips were probably never his first choice. It never dawned on me that as Mom was helping him pack, his heart may have been hurting to have to leave her, or that he was missing us already as he backed down the driveway in his Buick. I couldn’t comprehend back then that his job was just that — his job. It wasn’t his life and it wasn’t his heartbeat — we were.
He was just doing what needed to be done.
When I was younger I used to have little grudges about how my parents reacted to something I did (or didn’t do) or punishments they doled out. I used to think about how differently I’d do things when I was a mom — I’d do everything the right way. Ya, I’m chuckling…and I’ll bet you are, too, because we all think that when we are young, immature know-it-alls. We are hyper-critical of our parents and their responses and we believe we could handle things so much better than they. Now I realize that they did the very best they could with what they had. Not just with the tangible things like finances and meeting our needs, but with the intangible issues — sibling rivalry, stubbornness, disobedience — you name it. Their behaviors and responses to their children were based partially on how they were raised and the experiences they’d had to that point. Just like mine. I understand this now — the dynamic behind the decisions.
Their decisions were based on their human experience, just like mine, and they weren’t wrong just because they are different from what I would have chosen.
As a teen I was involved in quite a few extra-curricular activities. In high school I was approached by a teacher who thought I had a gift for speech and asked me to represent the school in a speech competition. At Christmas my dad wanted me to give my speech in front of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want to do it, but he kept prodding me to recite. I wished he’d just let it go and didn’t understand why he wanted me to humiliate myself in front of the family — who cared about hearing a dumb old speech? I do this to my kids now, whether it’s Melody with her music, Artie with his drawings, Vader with his audio productions, Jedi with his grades, or Sprout with his reading. I push them to share because I see their gifts and I know that others will be blessed to share them. I’m proud of my kids. My dad pushed me to share because he was proud of me, and probably also knew it would bless and delight the family.
My parents have lived an amazing life. They stayed together when I’m sure there were times it would have been easier to walk away. They have pursued their own hobbies, but have also remained very much one unit.
My mother has always been a strong woman, but I also grew up seeing a very intelligent woman. She had impeccable spelling, grammar, and handwriting and could define any word I gave her. I remember how impressed I was as a child when we were coloring together and I found a crayon with no wrapper, hence no name. She looked closely at it, colored with it, and proclaimed that it was puce. It was staggering to me that she would just know the color puce off the top of her head. She was always willing to drive us anywhere, help us with projects, do whatever we needed, and there was never a complaint. Never.
My father is very artistic. It isn’t something I really acknowledged or understood as a child. I look back now and realize all the creative things he did — the amazing things he’s created with his hands. He’s built bird homes of every sort, carved specialty mailboxes from a block of wood, designed amazing leather items, turned wood with his lathe, built additions on their homes. My favorite memory of my dad and me was a Christmas in New Hampshire — I was around ten. My brother had received a toy that was packaged in a box with a Styrofoam insert. As my brother played with his new toy, my dad and I sat at the kitchen table with a ball point pen and the Styrofoam, and as he sipped from a steaming mug of coffee, he drew on the Styrofoam, transforming it from a piece of rubbish to a space ship. I was transfixed. My eyes never left him as he paused to think through the design. He made it seem like that was the most important thing to do that day — make me a Styrofoam space ship. I think he had as much fun doing that as I did observing him.
I’m thankful for my parents and grateful to them. I learned innumerable things from them as I grew up, but the greatest thing is that I’m learning even more from them now. I’m finally seeing all the things they did — and didn’t do — for the sake of the family — because they loved us. They are always willing to talk to me about problems or concerns and help me figure things out. I appreciate the advice they give because it’s based on their vast experiences. Their words carry weight with me.
I’ve also learned that no matter what happens in life, no matter what decisions I make, they have always loved me and always will. I have not always honored my parents, and for the heartache I caused them I grieve often. I’m thankful for every day now that God has given us and for the privilege it is to honor them.
I love you, Mom and Dad.