But I was moved by this notion of positive regard, which implies the steady gaze of attention without judgment. Had I seen my children more clearly, might I have worried less? Might I have understood that my son’s tendency to “move about in his seat and chat with his neighbors” (a quote from one of his teachers who shared my worries) would lead to world adventures? Might I have been less ready to define my daughter as the dreamy, sensitive child? Might I have discovered—in her attunement to the well-being of others and her penchant for solitude and reflection—the compassion and tensile strength that carry her through her current schedule of all-day classes, all-night study sessions and vigorous debate?
In the end, I have to admit that there is one thing I do not like about having grown children. They are gone, and though they come back and bring their friends and ideas and movies and music and books, mostly the house is very quiet, the dog is a little older and sadder, and there is a space in my heart that was once so filled with bake sales and sick days that I didn’t know it was there until it, too, emptied out and got very quiet and a little older and sadder.
Now that I have had a chance to see my daughter and son more clearly, I would like to look at them more often. Our children are not our children, says Gibran. And what better proof is there than the fact that they grow up and go away? My chance to study them at the kitchen table—my son finishing immediately and eager to get down, my daughter telling a detailed story about an interaction at school that involved many layers of feelings on the part of many people—is gone. I’m not saying I blew it. Life’s longing for itself has found two exquisite forms in my children, through grace and good fortune and, surely, to some degree, through their parents’ efforts to love and provide for them. But if such a thing were possible, I would linger at that kitchen table longer, less worried about how much pasta my skinny boy had actually eaten and how intensely my girl took the world to heart.
I must be content with glimpses of my grown children, with rich conversations about expatriates and human rights and iTunes downloads, around a table where we linger, at last, my son happy to stay in his chair, my daughter lighthearted in her reporting of the grueling schedule she currently keeps. For life goes not backward, Gibran warns us, nor tarries with yesterday.
Michelle Blake is working on a collection of essays, Grown Children. For more information go to michelleblakewriter.com.
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of More.