And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Out of a Job

My granddaughter is 17, and her little brother just turned 13. They both live with me, so it's a different dynamic than many grandparents experience. When they were younger, their mother was often ill, and so a good deal of the parenting was mine. Now that she is able to parent them herself, it's sometimes a challenge for me to, well, not. Sure, I've got more experience. Sure, I actually know a better, easier way of getting something done or seeing a certain outcome, but I'm learning (slowly) to keep my mouth closed. Back off. Stay out of it. Keep a healthy distance.

I wonder if other women nearing 60 suddenly face the fact that after spending most of our lives with huge responsibilities -- the daily rearing, cleaning, wiping bottoms and noses, preparing meals, fixing problems and affixing band-aids to boo-boos, sewing clothes and hanging out the wash, giving advice and wiping away tears, teaching children how to make beds and tie shoes and (in my case, as a 12-year homeschooler) read and write and add -- we are now out of a job. That one, anyway.

My children are grown. We raised them, like the Boy Scouts, to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Some of the training took better than other parts; of the four, some are better in specific areas than their siblings. Each one, however, is of age. Each one is responsible for his or her own decisions, choices, and behavior.

No longer do I need to be vigilant on their behalf, or instruct them on what is Right. With one daughter and two grandchildren in the home, I still have a responsibility for the house itself, and make reasonable requests (in my opinion) as to their care of rooms or help with chores.

But I'm clearly out of a job. Or maybe the job description has merely changed, because it's not like I've retired. Theoretically I get to enjoy the fruits of my labors, enjoying the company and affection of my adult children, enjoying the company and affection of their children and significant others (and in one case, the children of a significant other). Now and then, my advice is asked. I get occasional texts and calls and emails and Facebook messages. Sometimes, my help is needed, and if able, I'm happy to provide it.

The adjustment hasn't been a smooth road, however. I've clung too long to being needed. My
expectations have been unreasonable. I've wanted my children to make decisions according to my own wisdom (which is unfair, because some wisdom must be attained over time). I've longed to see them walk in complete happiness, free from pain or issues or struggles, because as a mother of four young children, I tried to create that bubble of happiness. Somewhere along the way, the bubble burst. I've blamed this on myself (not true). I've blamed this on others (also not true). Bubbles are simply nice while they last, but they never last that long.

I've decided ... or maybe I should say that I am deciding, because it seems to be a daily process ... that working myself out of a job isn't a bad thing. It may mean that one phase of my life, my womanhood, is not exactly over -- I'll always be my children's mother, no matter how old they are -- but the lines have blurred. The edges of relationships have softened. My role in the play is being rewritten.

Mothers are called upon for so much: we have to be tender, we have to be strong, we have to sacrifice, we have to put the needs of our children first. As we reach this point in our lives, however, even though it sometimes feels harder, it's actually the opposite. We can relax. Take a deep breath. Do what we want. Go where we want. Not selfishly, but taking care of ourselves in ways we may have overlooked.

Many women learn this at a far younger age than I have. Women with different personalities may have less trouble letting go than I have had. Life has a way of knocking us around in different ways, and we learn the lessons we need at different rates. We get the same tests until we pass, and maybe we pass with an A+ and maybe we pass with a D- but that test is done, and it's on to another. This awareness of the job thing is, perhaps, just one more test for me.

I used to have a dream in my head: an Old World compound, filled with grown-ups and children, living and working together, relationships entwined with love and shared responsibilities. Bonanza and The Waltons and The Big Valley all merged into one big happy family. The problem with this is that it was my dream alone. No one else wanted it. My efforts to build it failed, and my disappointment in that failure was in danger of turning me into someone I didn't like. 

My children were raised to be independent and capable, which meant that they didn't need or want a compound. They wanted wings. As they've flown away, they've learned to soar. And I have loved watching their majestic beauty, even from afar.

What do you do when you realize that one dream will never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, come true? Another dream replaces it, hopefully, because everyone needs a dream. King Solomon wrote that "a desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12) but every tree begins with a seed. 

During these last few years of adjusting to my new role in life, I've planted a seed. When there isn't enough rain, I have a watering can. If there's a chill in the air, I'm out there with newspaper to ward off frost. And I'm waiting, praying that this tree will grow quickly, knowing that the roots are deep. The soil is good. 

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2016