Friday, May 19, 2017

How not to be a grouchy old person @Liz Flaherty

I'm not sure when I wrote this, but since the granddaughter I mentioned is--gasp--21, it's been a while. 

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." - James Taylor

In the seventies, Gail Sheehy wrote a book called Passages. Since it was a period of life for me that involved three children, one husband, a house, and a full-time job, I didn’t read the book. It didn’t sound very entertaining, and believe me, if I had the time to read in those days, I wanted the subject matter to be entertaining. 

Now, in the last decade of the century, I still haven’t read the book, but I do think more about passages these days. A death in our family of someone who left us too soon, before his life was even in full summer, caused some of this introspection. The births of my second, third, and fourth grandchildren in scarcely more than a year created more.
The passages make me sad.

I followed a school bus the other day and thought about all the years my kids rode a bus. For the entire 13 years I had students in this school system, they had the same driver. The bus I followed the other day didn’t even slow down when it passed our house and the driver who kept my children safe all those hundreds of days — not counting the ones my little darlings skipped — has passed away.

This morning, eating breakfast in a restaurant, I watched a father with his four children. He drank his coffee, ordered for the two youngest, kept the baby from taking unscheduled flights out of the high chair, talked with his kids, and chatted with people at other tables, all without blinking an eye.

Unless you’re a caregiver or a teacher, I suppose being able to keep up with a horde. Somewhere, somehow, the ability to think about all those different things and keep track of reaching fingers and kicking feet while still maintaining a grip on both a coffee cup and some semblance of reality passes you by. of kids isn’t a marketable skill when you’ve finished raising your family, and after a while you lose it.

For all of the at least 100 years that my kids were adolescents, I thought teenagers were the smartest, neatest, funniest people in the world. The times I spent with them were some of the most productive and memory-producing years of my life. I still think spectator entertainment doesn’t come any better than high school sports and that most clothing looks better on 17-year-olds than on anyone else on earth. But nowadays I catch myself thinking things like “why doesn’t he wash that hair?” or “I wonder if he can speak a complete sentence without using a four-letter-word” or, worst of all, “if that was my kid, I’d — 

I’d what? Who am I to criticize anyone’s parenting skills when I made every mistake there was to make at least once, more often two or three times? Is this what passages do? Do they turn you into a grouchy old person who forgets how things were once upon a time?
I guess, if you let them, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

But they can do other things, too.

I recently saw both of our sons dressed up at the same time. They wore suits, the one with a beard had it neatly trimmed, their shoes were freshly polished. While we sat, necessarily quiet, I didn’t have to tell either of them to stop kicking the chair in front of him, to stop whispering, to not smack his gum, to leave his brother alone. Their father did not have to point the finger that promised trouble later on or deliver on that promise. When we took them to lunch and they both ordered beer, I didn’t feel compelled to deliver the alcohol lecture I’d perfected over the years.

When we separated later in the day, I told them, “I love you. Be careful driving home,” just as I have told them since the first time they palmed a set of car keys, but the pressure was off. Although I love my children more and am prouder of them than I’ve ever been, they are no longer my responsibility.

And when I held my newest granddaughter and counted her fingers and toes as I counted my endless blessings, I looked at her wonderful, tired mother and thought about how she was just beginning.

I’m glad it’s her instead of me. I’m glad that when the baby stiffens up and her face turns red and she lets out a wail, I can hand her to one of her parents and say, “Here. Do something.” I’m glad that although she fits my arms like a warm and comfortable sweater, I’m not cold when I hand her back.

A few years ago, I had to drive my youngest son to his home an hour away during a snowstorm. It was black dark and the roads were getting nasty. When I let my son out of the car, he leaned back in before closing the door, looking at me in the glare of the interior light, and said, “I love you. Be careful driving home.”

Did I say passages made me sad? Maybe, sometimes. And sometimes not. Sometimes the discovery that things have indeed passed can brighten a gloomy day or brighten a dark night. It might even keep you from becoming a grouchy old person who forgets too much.


  1. Great post! Yeah, there's a bittersweetness to passages--our kid is the on telling us to be careful when we drive back and forth to the lake and it's amazing to watch him parent his kid. Some things I see him do, I recognize as parenting we did with him and some are all his own style. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Isn't it the truth? I always thought (seriously) that if only I could arrange a marriage for my son, he would be happy and so would I. Turns out he picked the perfect person all by himself! And I admit that I told him (and her) so when they announced their engagement. Children grow up and become more adult than their own parents at the wierdest times. I wonder when I'll grow up.

    1. Lol! My kids chose wonderfully, too--or were chosen. Not sure how that went. I think in some ways, we never grow up.