I was reading an article in one of the “parenting magazines” yesterday while I waited at my ob/gyn’s office. The article was discussing “growing pains” and the current idea that they’re not growing pains at all, but just muscle soreness and swelling due to over-activity. I can remember the pains quite clearly– they ruined many an evening of my childhood. Would it have mattered if they’d told me that they were just from too much running and playing instead of telling me that my legs ached because I was growing so fast? I think I prefer the old explanation. I liked the idea of growing up fast. I couldn’t wait to become an adult, to grow big and tall and get my own home and family. I didn’t care if it hurt.
This week contains the back-to-back birthdays of two of my middle kids. They’re 17 and 14 this year, but of course my 17 year old is still functioning in some areas like a 2 year old would. It’s bitter to watch her still refusing to be fully toilet trained. It’s exhausting to deal with her foibles, everything from showering her to shopping for her clothes takes so much effort. Her favorite pastimes are eating foreign objects, especially crayons and candles and rubbery electrical cords, and drawing bizarre cat faces on every door and wall in the house. Usually, she uses a Sharpie, because, although she’s autistic, she’s nobody’s fool. She knows that Sharpie doesn’t come off. She wants her freaky animals to STAY on the walls. It’s her house, after all. She’ll live here forever.
My 14 year old, blessedly, is moving in the opposite direction. It was a sort of natural progression this year. First, I took him to Target and let him pick out a wallet. Then we went to the Driver’s License place and got him an official state i.d. card. His other birthday presents are manly things, as well– sunglasses and a watch. He’s starting down that path to independence where he needs these accouterments. He’s still a kid, but the vistas are opening up for him; a little farther down the path and the i.d. card will turn into a driver’s permit, and then into a license. The wallet will fill with bank cards and cash from his future jobs. There’s a car somewhere in that future, and a college to be chosen, and (eventually) girls to be wooed and wed. If nothing horrible happens, he’ll be at that stage in another decade, with a bachelor’s degree and gainful employment.
Neither of their paths will be easy. My stepson just got his first full-time job. He’s been working off and on in part-time jobs for 8 years, and it’s gotten him exactly nowhere. The good job that he just started is the key to his future. We’re all praying and holding our breaths, hoping that he won’t mess it up. A full time job with a decent wage means he can move into his own place, buy himself a new car, and become a full-fledged adult. He’s going to hate working a regular job– who wouldn’t, after only working on weekends and 4 days a week for years? But he has to struggle through it, or he’ll be living in our house forever. And that’s not a good thing. That doesn’t have any kind of pain involved– we only charge him a pittance of rent, and it’s rarely collected in full. He sleeps all day and raids the fridge which we have so thoughtfully filled with food. Easy street.
Life involves change, though, or it isn’t living at all, but a sort of suspended animation.
My oldest daughter just decided what she wants to be when she grows up. It’s been a rough road for her, since she has artistic sensibilities but enough brains to know that painting pictures isn’t a feasible way to put food on the table. The career path that she’s chosen is a rough one, full of math and science, but at least she’s picked a road to follow. Next year, she’ll have to leave home to go to school if we haven’t moved to a town with a good university. More changes, more pain, but in the end there should be a reward.
I’ve had a rough week of it, but I think I am starting to come out of the paralyzed sort of grief. It occurred to me that, if no one wants to buy my novel after it’s done, I can always self-publish it. That was a revolutionary idea for my mind to process. I’m not at a dead end, but at a fork in the road. I just have to choose a path.
There’s no choices that I can make right now, though. I have to go buy a birthday cake and some cream to make fettuccine Alfredo, which is the boy’s favorite. Tomorrow, I can sit down with my manuscript and finish the chapter that I left dangling all those weeks ago. It’s the path that I’m going to choose to take. I’m not going to go back along the nursing road– there’s no happiness there for me. I only have one life to live, and I don’t want to spend it that way.
But today is a feast day, so I will spend it cooking highly fattening foods for my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Who wouldn’t be, when he’s so cheerfully growing up into a man and making his own, very important, choices?