The kids may be grown up, have kids of their own, be launched in their careers and be living lives independent of us--just as we brought them up to do.
And then something happens--an emergency, a minor accident or temporary difficulty--and suddenly our parental services are in demand. Well, demand may be too strong a word. Let's say. there's an opportunity for us to be helpful without being intrusive or making them feel they've regressed into childhood.
A few years ago the "something" in our family was a frightening car accident: my daughter's child, my Grand was hit by a car and ambulanced to Children's Hospital with a concussion and broken pelvis. It was a high anxiety, frightening moment until we knew that she would be all right. Being an hour away by airplane, I flew up--ostensibly to help out, though there was little I could actually do. By the time my daughter and family got home from a two-day stay in the hospital, friends and neighbors had started a chain of casserole deliveries, offers to walk the dog and do anything else they could possibly do. Months later, when I had enough perspective to post about the event, I noted how useless I felt. My daughter wrote to assure me that it meant a lot to her that I was there.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when "something happened" again. It was not as life- or health-threatening-- as the first something but challenging nonetheless: My daughter hurt her back (Ashtanga yoga. grrrr!). She ended up with an extruded disc or two, a lot of pain and a numb left leg that occasionally collapsed. Ordinarily, this would not call for a mom to fly to a daughter's side--there is a helpful husband, many friends and neighbors, and doctors and physical therapists. But there was this hitch: She and her family were about to decamp for a summer in California, swapping their home in New England with a friend who has a home in the East Bay area near San Francisco. There was a limit to how long the cross country trip could be delayed--the California family would be en route shortly. My daughter and Grand were scheduled to fly to San Francisco and make their way to the house while my son-in-law with the dog in the back seat and a trunk full of luggage drove across the country.
A fine plan when my daughter knew not of back pain. Now she was temporarily incapacitated and hurting. Although the worst of the acute phase seemed to be receding, I suggested I could fly to San Francisco with my daughter and Grand, help them settle into the house and take care of some basics until my son-in-law got there.
Offer made. Offer accepted. Which is why I woke up on a Tuesday morning a few weeks ago with a view of the Bay Bridge to my left, the Golden Gate on my right and mountains shrouded in cloud straight ahead on the far side of the bay. Outside, nasturtiums grew wildly, spewing their yellow and orange pops of color up hills, along sidewalks and out of cracks in driveways.
I also saw that my daughter, injured though she was, was capable of managing on her own. She logged onto her laptop and ordered dinner delivered. If it had been necessary, she could have done the same with groceries. None of whatever it took to move in required my presence.
So what was I doing there? Was I on the wrong side of useful? Maybe, but, once again, being there is helpful in a less tangible, reassuring way. No matter how old our children are--no matter how grown up and independent they become--there still is room for parental presence and the reassurance of emotional support. I may not have had to take care of basics, but I got my reward anyway: Three days of quality time with my daughter and my Grand. Three generations of our family's women helping each other out.