"...Parents are people
People with children
When parents were little, they used to be kids
Like all of you, but then they grew
And now parents are grown-ups
Grown-ups with children
Busy with children, and things that they do
There are a lot of things a lot of mommies
And a lot of daddies,
and a lot of parents can do..."
- Carol Hall
I was barely out of high school when my dad suddenly passed on (following a road collision) that left my 39 year old mom widowed with 8 children under the age of 19. I am still ashamed to admit that although I was heartbroken for our family, and devastated by the way his passing turned our lives upside down socially, financially and emotionally, I was not as deeply concerned about my mom losing her husband and companion, as I should have been. I thought, "they were old anyway". Horrible, huh!?!? But honest. I was so immature. The world of "adults over 30" was filled with senior citizens in my eyes. I couldn't imagine that my mom still had the capacity to feel romance...or be in love. She was old, she had eight children to raise, she'd had her day in the sun…right!
Wrong....so sadly wrong...
My mom was, and still is, a vital, loving, hope-filled and gloriously alive woman….and always has been. But it took me decades, following my dad's passing, to realize this fact.
It finally dawned on my when one of my dearest friends, and her husband, had been in a tragically fatal automobile accident. I had been with her in the hospital, day in and day out, for over a week while she was being treated in their critical care/trauma unit. The day that she passed on I felt sad, and empty, and helpless in making sense of how a mother (and her husband who had passed on the day before) could be taken from their children at such a young age. It was wrong and wasteful. She was so vital and alive with promise. "She was in the prime of her life, " I thought as I drove to another friend's house from the hospital that day. She was about my age for goodness sake, and I was only….37….
I literally stopped in my tracks. I was driving through a suburban neighborhood…thank goodness…because my entire body stopped operating that 3,000 pound vehicle. My foot came up off the gas pedal and I drifted to the side of the road where my car came to a stop. In anguished horror I immediately thought of my mom. She was only been 39 when my dad passed on and I had thought of her as "over the hill", beyond falling in love and having dreams. My heart broke open wide for my mom…and my friend…in that surreal moment of suburban normalcy. I KNEW how much I loved life, I KNEW how many dreams I had yet to even begin realizing, I KNEW how deeply I longed to be loved and in love…every day of my life. I KNEW how young I felt inside and how terrifying the thought of being widowed with eight children would be to me at that moment…heck, the thought of being widowed with one child was more than I could comprehend. How would I go on? How would I be able to even function in the context of the grief and despair of losing my husband, much less be able to work and provide for my child.
As I sat there with my face in my hands…parked haphazardly in front of a someone's perfectly manicured suburban lawn…I wept for my friend, her husband, and their young daughters. I wept for my own parents and our family. I wept for my mom and all the years I thought she was too old to still need love and romance and companionship in her life. I wept for my own insensitivity as a teenager.
There were no cell phones in those days so I couldn't call my mom from the privacy of my car. I had to wait for a few hours after arriving at my friend's house, when things had settled down and I could excuse myself. However, when I did I told her all that was in my heart. I told her that I was sorry I had never understood how young and dynamic she was and how alive her desires were. I told her that I now understood that she was still a young woman inside and that I wanted to help her resurrect any dreams that she might have let the world…and us kids…convince her she was too old to still cherish and nurture. I have tried to do just that. I've tried to help her remember that she can still go to college, start a new life by the ocean, climb a 14,000 foot mountain, or fall in love.
Whenever I begin to forget that we are all ageless children of God, I remember that moment in my friend's neighborhood. I try to remember how, at 37, I felt just as alive to love and hope, and cherished dreams…as I had at 17. The me who loved snuggling under the covers with a book for a great read on a rainy day at 11 is just as hungry for the perfect quilt-and-tea book today. The me who sang at the top of her lungs on road trips alone behind the wheel flying across Kansas does the same thing on her way to camp every summer….much to the chagrin of her daughters. The me who wakes up each morning with a heart eager to try something new…is the same me who just knew that she could do anything she set her mind to at 18. And the me whose heart broke with every not-so-wise choice at 16, still lies awake at night praying for forgiveness and redemption at 53.
A few years ago I had a Sunday School student who came to class concerned that his mom was "going off the deep end" because she was wanting to make some drastic changes in her career. Then in the next sentence he complained that she didn't give him enough freedom, as a new college student, to explore a number of different options that were of interest to him. "Doesn't she know that this is what I am supposed to be allowed to do at my age?" he asked. "Don't you know that's what she needs to be allowed, by you, to do as well?' I countered. "Are you giving her as much freedom to grow and evolve and change as you expect to give you?" I then asked gently.
I continue to learn, each day, that "Parents are People"…people who, in God's eye, are just children. Children who are learning each day more of what they are capable of as His heir, children who grow in grace, learn from their choices, and never stop hoping, dreaming, evolving within the circle of His arms.