September is when the New Year has always begun, in my book. Things commence with the click of a preset switch from summer to fall, whisking in new opportunities like a breath of fresh air. The world is all shiny shoes and sharpened pencils and clean slates, come September.
And while I have no particular need these days for either updated footwear or another box of Ticonderoga #2s, the sense of new beginnings is part of my DNA, ingrained beyond my own school days, beyond even my kids’ school days. Say goodbye to August, say hello to a brand new start.
I confess, it’s taken me a few weeks to switch gears this September, to feel energized by that shift from one season to the next. First off, there was the combination of heat and humidity that didn’t let up when August departed. I spent the summer sweltering, from my younger son’s steamy college graduation, back in May, until, well, very recently. My memories of that commencement day mostly have to do with seeking shade and sucking on ice cubes and trying to un-adhere myself from whatever I was sitting on or leaning against, all day long. It feels like I’ve been asking, “Is it hot, or is it just me?” nearly endlessly, ever since. Actually, I don’t bother with the second half of that query. Because I know. These days, it’s always me.
So, between the heat and the haze and the hip surgery recovery and the extra hot flashes brought on by my post chemo and radiation medication, it’s been a sweltery slog of a summer. While others around me traveled to weddings and went rafting and water skiing and took in everything that makes summertime grand, I stayed close to home, trying to get some solid ZZZs in whatever sleeping positions have worked, paying regular visits to my PT gurus, and attending to my strength and stretching routine on the cool tile kitchen floor, under the ceiling fan. It hasn’t been my idea of perfect, but it’s definitely been what the doctor ordered.
What I could have lived without, during this stay-at-home summer, was the extra time I spent (or more accurately, wasted) in my self-imposed designated worrywart role. The sleepless hours lost to orthopedic discomfort provided a fertile playground for my imagination—a simple case of me having too much time lying awake, pondering the plights of loved ones whose paths are currently unclear.
The individual on that list who is least worthy of any of my 2AM concerns has been my younger son. Since that sticky cap-and-gown event back in May, he worked to get one more issue of a beloved undergrad publication to print, while also making time to practice for his better-late-than-never driver’s license road test. I know he longs to be gainfully employed and living elsewhere–who wouldn’t, at his age? But honestly, I like having him at home, and the hours devoted to parallel parking outings were a cheerful gift, considering the circumstances. He’s had his license for a month now, and (predictably) has discovered the wonders of the open road. I’m happy for him, even as I miss our practice drives to a favorite diner that has fabulous egg dishes and plentiful side street practice venues. But still, I worry. I know he wants to push off to the next thing, and I wish I could help him get there, wherever there may be. But I’m pretty much clueless as to what I could possibly be doing to help him, which is a hard reality to live with—mother as fossil, that’s me. And yet, and yet…he’s my baby, and I want him to be happy. That piece never goes away.
Then there are my dear in-laws, who are facing the whole panoply of growing old concerns, together and individually. Bottom line, no matter how much you anticipate your needs and ready yourself for your “golden years,” there’s simply no fool-proof primer for how your old age will play itself out. Moreover, there’s no road map for what to do when one member of a lifelong couple is considerably healthier than the other–which, unfortunately, is where my mother- and father-in-law find themselves. My heart aches for them both, while the list of entertaining and useful things I can do for them seems to be shrinking, my capacity to bring joy to their days, somehow diminished.
I’ve reached a curious point with both my octogenarian and my twentysomething loved ones, where the arcs of my roles in their lives have intersected. It comes down to this: I can’t fix any of my family members’ most significant problems anymore. These days, there’s just no kissing anyone’s boo-boos to make everything better. For the generation ahead of me and the one coming up behind me, it feels like the best I can do is to simply be present, and listen, and not try to jolly them out of the very real feelings they’re having about their lives these days—both the feelings that are part of being launched into adulthood, and the feelings that come when one’s health and one’s competencies, so long taken for granted, start slipping away.
I guess I’ve arrived at like some form of parenting in reverse. There is no helicopter mothering-mode for the stages my sons have entered, and there’s no way to turn the clock back for my in-laws. There’s only the acknowledgement that my family role is tilting to someplace on the other side of a generational equinox. And all I can do, from this side, is to be present, and thoughtful. It may seem useless, but it really does count, to just let another person know that you care. Even when there’s no fix to offer with the caring. I’ll always be a mom, and I’m still a dutiful daughter-in-law, but I no longer can pretend to be the source of perfect solutions to the perils of growing up, or growing old.
This past week, the autumnal equinox officially turned the page from summer to fall. And with this leap towards the darker side of the calendar, the humidity finally left town. So now I’m enjoying the sleep that comes with a chill in the air, a breeze through the open windows, and an extra blanket pulled up over my shoulders. The days are growing shorter, air is crisper, and that sense of fresh starts has finally arrived. I’m grateful for the seasonal sense of new possibilities, even as I realize I’m looking at the world from a new vantage point, around a new corner on the road of my own life story.
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Hey, extra credit if you think you’ve already seen this post’s photos. They are indeed reruns, seen here in years past. I won’t bore you with my tech trials and tribulations; let’s just say, getting my phone and my laptop to play nicely with one another has been an ongoing project. I’ll let you know when I can get the photos on my phone to jump to iPhoto. Until then, arghhhh…