adult children, adult parenting, children, classical music, cooper union, empty nest, family, grown children, hope, kids, life, love, mothering, music, musician, New York, NYC, orchestra, parenting, relationships, young musicians
I wrote the post below a few months ago at a low point of a mother-son relationship. I wrote it because I needed to talk to someone but didn’t want anyone to hear, if you know what I mean. I didn’t feel comfortable posting it at the time. The words were so raw, so personal. There’s not enough out there about adult children; an untapped genre. Yet there is much to be said about this special kinship.
When I was young, I often heard my parents use the word “nakhes.” It means pleasure. Parenting is a journey that requires a labor of love, and they looked forward to the gratification; the fruits of labor at the end of the road. I thought of that yesterday as I watched my son perform with his orchestra at The Great Hall at Cooper Union in the East Village in NYC, a majestic venue that served as a speaking platform for Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and Mark Twain. Watching him gracefully shift from one percussion instrument to the next, looking so professional and focused, I reveled in how far he’s come and how hard he worked to get here. It is his achievement. It is my nakhes.
That was yesterday. This was three months ago…
I get it. Really, I do. I know you are an adult and don’t want to be babied. Believe it or not, we’re in agreement. Truthfully, I enjoy your company more as an adult than I did when you were a child. You were adorable, and I will always cherish the memories of your cuteness. But this time in your life is especially dear to me. While you are old enough to have lived, worked and traveled on your own, and I am young enough to lead a full empty-nest life, we each bring a fresh perspective to the proverbial and literal table. We converse on the same level, exchange opinions as open-minded adults, and spar respectfully…except when it comes to sharing space. That’s when it gets tricky.
A pattern has developed, and I see it every time you come home to visit. I’ve come to expect it but never verbalized it, at least not well. I am writing this because the thoughts and feelings now overflow, since we have hardly spoken in the last two days – or has it been one or three? I can’t remember. When this happens, it always seems so long. Then it occurred to me. I really need to put it in writing to make sense of what I’ve been trying to say. I don’t know if I will show this to you or not, but I long to remove the roadblock, stamp out the twigs, and find the clearing in the path. I know it’s there even though it is outside my view right now.
When you first arrive, it’s all hugs and smiles. The first couple of days, we catch up with laughter and levity. I can sense your renewed delight in the house you grew up in, a stable and quiet oasis from the heavy responsibilities you’ve taken on. I’m overcome with pride not only in you but in myself at the notion that I may have had anything to do with the handsome, strong, personable, accomplished and funny adult you have become. Then, two or three days pass, and the dynamics change.
Try to understand. Both of us are used to running our own household, so if I seem irritated, it’s because while you were out there becoming independent, I became used to my own space. What you hear as babying is me trying to keep my household copacetic. Have you noticed we don’t clash when we’re out and about together?
There was a line in the movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” where the mother is desperately trying to communicate with her deaf child, finally crying out, “I just want to talk to my son.” I hear her cries in my head and want to tell her I know. My child is not a child and the barrier is not auditory, but I feel it too. I just want to talk to my son.
Rosalie Fisher said:
Nice, and true!
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Carrie Rubin said:
It’s a definite shift in dynamics, isn’t it? My college son recently transferred to a new school. His first two years were at a university only forty-five minutes away so he came home every weekend which was lovely. Now he’ll only be home on holidays so it will be strange to enter this new pattern. But good too. It’s time for him to fly.
Gail Kaufman said:
You’re right, Carrie. When it’s time for them to fly, it’s good when we all move on. But that transition period, when their home becomes a place to visit, does some weird things to their personality. It’s an adjustment for all.
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Lisa Chesser said:
Thank you for posting this again. I was tired of grading papers and dealing with endless problems so I came her to read. What a wonderful read it is. I feel so much the same. My children are growing and with that we speak less and that silence is both welcome and heavy. Speaking has become much of a task and while they’re still at home, I feel the adjustment and it feels so much like that screaming you wrote about at the end of this post.
Gail Kaufman said:
Thanks, Lisa. It’s so good to hear from someone who can relate. Yes, silence is both welcome and heavy. Well put.