We sit together at a game or at a table in the backyard and we comment on how quickly our kids are growing. We talk about how the days go slow, but the years go fast. How we’re not ready for them to be ready to leave us. We’re joined together by our similar place in time, where we are carefully crafting a life for our kids to grow within.
Because that’s what parents do.
Then, one day, we look up and realize that while we’ve been engrossed in building a safe space for our children, our own parents have aged beyond what we’re prepared for. We suddenly notice that time has had its hands on them as well, while we weren’t looking. And we become faced with losing the people who once gave us shelter of our own.
These are some of the hardest years of growing older; the ones they don’t tell you about.
On the other side of 40, I’ve watched countless friends straddle the in-between of being cared for and being the caregiver. I’ve watched them stride headlong into the inevitability of losing their parent, full of fear and yet, knowing that time would keep pressing, regardless of their efforts.
I’ve watched them ride into their new reversed roles as a parent to their own parent — even as the child within them began to mourn. And I’ve watched them bravely step out from under the shade of that shelter they’ve always known.
When my friend’s mother got sick, she brokered peace between her siblings to give her a tranquil end. When my friend’s father was in and out of the hospital for months, she fought for the best care for him. When my friend’s mom forgot who she was, she refused to fall apart. When my friend’s dad asked her to forgive him on his deathbed, she forgave him with reciprocation of the unconditional love he’d always shown her.
I’ve watched in awe, terrified for the moment I’m called to leave the comfort of being the child, even as a mother myself. I panic that the ache will be the same as the homesickness I used to feel at a sleepover when I was young. I’d call for my mother to come get me and she’d bring me home, where I’d instantly find calm again in her safe space for me.
I know you’re walking over the threshold of this now, and fresh with grief and worry over the loss of your safe space. But I want you to know that it isn’t gone. That safe space is still here.
It’s in the people who hold you every day. Who protect you when maybe you aren’t even looking. It’s in the friends who you’ve been creating a safe space for too, maybe without knowing it. The people who help you flip through the pages of your past and who you know are going to walk along with you into the future as a parent, as a person and eventually as a child to your own children once you’ve grown old.
We can be mothers and fathers to each other. It’s still here in us.
You can make yourself at home in the shelter of my backyard table. You can sit in a safe space with me on the sidelines of our son’s lacrosse game. You can cry with me while we watch our kids at the beach. You can lament with me when the days drag on and you can hold on with me while the years speed away from us, because you will always have a carefully crafted place to grow with me.More On