A Word to the Wise

My age has begun to feel like something separate from me. Like it needs its own chair. When I sit quietly and think about it, I feel grateful for this new decade of life. The years past are strewn with things I would handle differently now, given the lens of time and experience. There are words I would rephrase or even refrain from saying. Actions and activities I would skip altogether. Because, the older I get, the wiser I feel. Not like Gandalf or King Solomon, or even my parents. More like a wise person’s apprentice. I sense, hopefully, the green shoots of understanding beginning to poke their heads above ground.

Unless I’m around my kids. Then, I often feel like the newest recruit at the office. Or the understudy coffee maker at MacDonald’s. The other day, I was driving around with our youngest daughter. Throughout our conversation, she offered a litany of softly voiced suggestions. “Mom, the light is green now, you can go. Hey, mom, you might want to get in the other lane…otherwise it will be hard to turn. No, mom, you have to go past the building, then turn around to enter the parking lot.”

The more she talked, the more of a novice I became. “You know, I’ve been driving a lot longer than you,” I said, in the tone parents use when they’re feeling defensive. She gave me a semi-compassionate look, which somehow only made it worse. And the thing I kept thinking was, how old do we have to be before our children think we’re wise? The answer I came up with was, we have to be dead.

I’ve always admired my parents, but never more so than after they passed on. The way they did things, the encouragement they gave me. It wasn’t always like that, but as they got older, they sure seemed smarter. I wish I would have told them that. I’m sure I was complimentary about many things, but I don’t think I ever said, “Mom and Dad, you are so wise. Thank you for the advice.”

When my husband and I are alone together, we don’t notice that we’re reminding each other to turn off the stove or the water sprinkler, to plug in the car when its cold outside. Together, we feel like mature, competent adults. But when we’re around young people, ie: our children, we feel, to copy my mother’s phrase, like cows staring at a new gate. We become stupider. Or feel stupider. And yet our children are kind people. They’re helpful. But somehow, one can’t help picking up certain undercurrents. Like they’re secretly thinking, ‘Dear God, do I have to show them one more time how to get back on Pinterest?’

Being wise probably means accepting help gratefully. Knowing that our children are giving back to us for all the years we cared for them, in the best way they know how. We are each growing in our own way, at our own speed. So I head to the kitchen for another cup of tea and pat my age on the head as I walk by. (It’s sitting in the chair next to me.) “Good job,” I say. “Keep trying. You’re not quite there yet.”

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