The annual fall driving season started last weekend with a trip north then a stop at the regular house before coming back to the beach.
On the way back to Raleigh, I stopped in the DC area to take the Handsome Son and the Jolie Blonde out to dinner. Handsome Son had just been offered the full-time job of his dreams earlier in the week. The Jolie Blonde had started her own full-time position at the job of her dreams three weeks ago.
Full-time, salary and benefits! MDR and I marveled to each other.
It’s funny how your dreams for your children change over time. It used to be that we wanted them to find good friends, love school, and do their chores without prodding. Now we wish for them fulfilling work, benefits and a 401k. I suppose the root of all those dreams is comfort and a safety zone, but how it manifests when they are 12 is completely different from when they are nearly 24.
When I got back to the beach, MDR and I resumed our “what are we going to do next?” conversation. This wasn’t about how to spend our Tuesday, but a variation of a theme that has been going on for years. In recent months the question has had a little more urgency as one child settles in his life beyond our scope and the other is nearly ready to launch her own. This circles around next steps to take as individuals and as a couple.
But since we start with such a general question, more often than not we don’t progress beyond discussing a place to visit or a trip to take and then circling around to an “I don’t know” with an accompanying shrug.
What’s perplexing to me as we tread over the ruts of that conversational road once again is that not once have we said, “Why can’t we do [fill in the blank] next?” and made sure the fill in the blank was a small step toward something new. We’re smart, informed and curious people but we keep thinking big picture only. We keep looking at the horizon instead of focusing on those important things directly in front of us.
As we walked (physically) along the beach road today, I asked MDR, “Why do we always throw up barriers against actually experiencing what could happen next? Why don’t we follow the fearless models our kids have?”
Then I added, “Of course, part of their fearlessness comes from our doing a good job raising them.” (Why duck away from a chance at hubris?) The last statement may be boasting, but the question about our kids was serious. Handsome Son – and his Jolie Blonde – went to live in DC without a full-time job (her) and without any job (him). Six months later they are doing what they love, saving a tiny bit of money, and living in a city that drew them both in two summers ago.
This doesn’t mean they don’t have to be creative about money and saving where they can, nor do they pass up the occasional vacation with parents to actually relax without slamming the budget. But in all the important ways, they leapt and expected the net to appear. It was amazing to watch that net knit itself together as they flew through the air.
The Lovely Daughter prepares in her own way for fearless acts: armed with information and reviews she takes on cities new to her and conquers them with charm and wit. Who else would have baristas at three different coffee bars giving her free espresso during her last week in Dublin? And who else would call her parents asking for legal and PR advice knowing we would answer the questions without flipping out? (OK, maybe there was a little of that flipping after the call was finished.)
The point of it all is that we tried very hard to show our children it’s important to follow your dreams and to act on them. But sometimes — even when you try very hard not to let it happen — in the busy, demanding time of actively raising your kids you forget the thrill of flying through the air after your own dreams. Sure, you give the dreams just enough nourishment to hang on, but the lack of full nutrition catches up with you and those lackluster dreams fade away soon enough.
When presented with an opportunity (physical or emotional) you might say, “I’ll run more when my knees (or my back or my neck) don’t hurt.” Or “I’ll really write that after this next trip.” Or “I will consider a move after graduation or the next quarter or when the market turns.” But deflect the cool idea or new opportunity often enough, it will find some other soul on which to latch and take root.
And that’s not what being fearless is all about, is it? So I’m going to change the question now to “Why don’t we figure out how to fill in the blank?” And then set about doing just that.
After all, it’s never too early to start learning from your kids.
Laura Reeth lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with the man of her dreams. With kids off at college, she no longer plays the role of active, day-to-day parent, and has moved into the complex understanding-parent-of-nearly-adult-children role. The main difference is she gets more sleep now.