Regrets; We’ve all got them but Some of Them Were Avoidable
Regrets have formed too much of my thinking throughout my parenting years, worrying about what I could have done differently and hoping my children’s ability to tolerate other humans hasn’t been damaged by my frequent hysterics at the most random things while they were growing up. When I was single and care free, I would’ve laughed at the idea of World War III beginning over who squeezed the toothpaste onto the bathroom mirror and wrote their sibling’s name in it. My middle daughter told me at the weekend she thought I did OK, which is probably the biggest compliment I could hope for as a parent and it made me feel glowy all over.
Husband and I just spent a helluva weekend travelling from the central North Island right down through Taranaki. We covered more than a thousand kilometres in less than 36 hours. Crazy right?
Our youngest daughter just brought herself her first car, christened The Roller Skate by Husband, but it wouldn’t fit all her gear in its adequate boot space for her return to Palmerston North and another year at university. Hence the need to drive our car in front of hers for five hours with the heavy stuff ensconced in our bigger boot. Add to that another daughter also studying in Palmerston North, who we haven’t seen since our early Fake Christmas at the start of December and you can throw in another few boot items. If you thought I was done, then I need to mention that our son has just relocated to Wellington to do his third year at university – hence the trip right down to the very end of the land mass, making a total of seven hours driving and then two more back up to Palmy to sleep.
Husband did all the driving. In my defence I did have a little go at driving his large car on a straight bit of road a few days before the trip, but I don’t think it filled him with much confidence.
After our gruelling trip on Saturday, we enjoyed breakfast with the girls on Sunday morning and then filled up at a garage, ready to tackle the five hours plus back up to the Waikato. Our goodbyes were sad as always, but our gang is settled and happy and it’s our goal as parents to raise adults with the ability to care for themselves after we’ve gone. Because one day we will be gone.
We were navigating the winding roads above Taupo when Husband, who had been very quiet asked me, “Did you see that man in Palmy?”
“The one with the weed eater.”
Well, no. I hadn’t seen any man with a weed eater. I went to the toilet at the cafe and then again at the garage, determined to force my aging body to last until at least Waiouru. I was probably self-absorbed, threatening my bladder and trying to decide whether to get my laptop out and write an installment in the next Hana book or carry on with the cushion cover I started crocheting on the way down.
Now I should point out that Husband is not given to moments of sentimentality. He’s Mr Macho, the original Logan Du Rose in the flesh. A cowboy hat, cowboy boot wearing serious dude who can fix stuff with wire and tools and break stuff with his bare hands.
“I saw a man with a weed eater,” he said. “I watched him clear away the tall grass next to a cross stuck into the ground at a junction. Then he patted the cross with his hand. It was sad. I felt like he lost a child in a road accident.”
It was clear the man had lost someone and his extreme pain radiated across the road to a stranger in a car from another town. That man spent his Sunday morning clearing weeds and grass away from a memorial probably few people ever noticed. And when he was done, he touched the cross and remembered. Was it his son or daughter? Did he remember running around the country after them, delivering boot loads of crap? Did he think about netball games, soccer matches conducted in the rain after which he transported home a grumpy, fed up child with attitude? Maybe he argued with a stubborn teen who knew better, or perhaps cried when they made a bad decision. He’d probably give anything to go back into any of those moments and try again.
It stuck with us both. It was there even when I woke up this morning, climbing from my bed tired and aching from sitting in a car for two days. It made me want to ring all my kids and tell them I loved them. Today was the first day of uni for most of them, partners included. I texted them, knowing that by the time I got to work, they were either clambering out of bed or half way through an early lecture.
It makes me feel fortunate. My heart goes out to the man with the weed eater, the man I don’t know, will probably never see and whose pain I shared vicariously through the eyes of someone else.
For anyone struggling with family members, especially your children; hold on. Make memories, not regrets.
I chatted to a lady once who talked about her grown son who used to stay out late. She could never sleep until she knew he was home safe and remarked how he would love to sit in the kitchen and keep her talking until the wee small hours and then she’d crawl out of bed exhausted the next day, promising herself that next time she’d go to bed and sleep. She never did. Despite her best intentions she stayed up until he left home, waiting with the lights on and her ears ready to listen. Her son died unexpectedly in his twenties and she said how grateful she felt for those hours God gave her in which to access her son’s hopes and dreams and learn who he really was and what he wanted from life. Night was his time to be chatty and enthusiastic and a different woman might have missed that incredible blessing. That mother has no regrets.
We’ve done some hard yards with our family, times of argument and estrangement and times of joy and misery which seem to run into a single never ending trail of confusion and regrets.
If your toddler refuses to walk and latches to your hip like a limpet to the point where you want to scream, be glad for their desire to be near you. One day you’ll be lucky to get a hug or a kiss as they dash out in their car.
If your weekends are filled with busyness, don’t forget to look up from the steering wheel, referee’s whistle or pile of dirty washing and look at the reason you’re doing it. And don’t forget to smile, even if they don’t smile back.
If your teenager’s decided you’re the nearest thing to the Antichrist on earth and won’t talk to you for weeks, send them the odd few texts a week letting them know you love them and listing the best things about them. One day, they’ll need you and that door will be ajar when the return text says, ‘Help me.’
Whatever happens, look for the good things about being a parent, whether you’re charging from one end of the country to the other with a boot full of crap, or transferring cash like a money launderer. I don’t think many of us actually received the ‘How to be a Great Parent’ memo; I know I didn’t. But for their sake and yours, don’t forget to enjoy the enjoyable and tell your brain to remind your face that parenting’s a good thing and you’re probably doing better than you think.
Nothing is guaranteed, least of all tomorrow.