When I was younger, I was always in such a rush to grow up and be an adult. I wanted to hurry up and get to college; I wanted to fast forward time so that I could have the house, the relationship, the career, the kids…At the same time, I was always afraid of letting go of my childhood, not wanting to grow up too fast. It seems contradictory, I know — I was eager for the future, but afraid to let go of the past. I never really found the right balance, but now something has changed. Next week I turn 25, and as much as I was looking forward to this new age, as determined as I was to make this new year count, I suddenly find myself wishing it wouldn’t come. At least, not so fast, anyway. Suddenly, I want more than anything to press the pause button, to be happy with where I am right now, to enjoy each moment as I have them.
The events from the past few weeks have brought up these old emotions that I thought I had such a firm handle on and made me realize that the idea of growing up is something that I’m still struggling with. When you’re younger, birthdays mean a bigger number, ice cream cake, lots of presents, and cool, themed parties. When you’re younger, you can’t wait until you’re older because it means staying up later or finally taking off those training wheels. When you’re younger, you’re one year older, but everyone else stays exactly the same.
Things don’t stay the same anymore. Now, when you get older, people get older with you. And there’s no pause button for that.
When I was in my senior year of high school and ready to go off to college, I sensed a shift in the relationship I had with my family, particularly with my grandparents. My dad’s parents lived in New York, but about ten years ago they decided to make Pennsylvania their permanent home. Because they were so close in vicinity, my relationship with them naturally grew stronger. I began to see them as people, with a history and emotions and opinions. Growing up, I loved them as grandparents; suddenly, I loved them as equals.
When my grandpa died around four years ago, my grandmother changed. She grew more dependent on the family; depressed and lonely, not to mention intensely stubborn, she clung to the past, afraid of this new, suddenly changed future. This week, afraid that she would be unable to care for herself after undergoing a major operation, we placed her in a temporary nursing facility for rehabilitation.
When I was around twelve years old, we had to put my maternal grandmother into a nursing home. She had lived with us since I was born and I always remember her being sick, but once she developed Alzheimer’s, there was a change in her, too. Suddenly, the woman who forgot her family was a woman that I, too, didn’t know. As hard as it was for me to see this change, it was even more difficult to watch my mom struggle with the situation. When grandma took a turn for the worst, despite my mom’s protests, I went with my parents to see her and provide the support and comfort I knew my mom needed. I don’t think I really fully understood what she was feeling back then. All I knew was that my family was hurting, and I wanted to do whatever I could to ease that pain.
Now, more than ten years later, I can see the parallels as we face a similar situation with my dad and his mother. Only, this time it feels different. This time, I’ve changed. Back then, I was still a kid, barely a teenager. I knew what role I played, but I didn’t really connect with what was happening, as my parents tried their best to shelter me from the full reality of the situation. Now, as an adult, I’m able to piece it all together. I see the struggle that my dad is facing about how to best care for my grandmother without taking away her independence and her pride, and I can only imagine how it must feel to watch a person, an individual, that you love, that you idolize, be reduced to a stereotype. And suddenly I’m realizing that one day that might be my close reality.
On a visit home from college after my grandpa died, I remember noticing the wrinkles on my grandma’s face, and how I had never noticed them there before. She seemed older, tired. The woman who was always so fiercely stubborn and independent, who had enough stories (and would repeatedly tell them to whomever was willing to listen) to fill volumes, and who took such great pride in her appearance now suddenly looked, and acted, her age. It was around that same time that I began to really take a look at my parents, to notice their own graying hair and aging lines, despite their young-at-heart personalities. And although I absolutely knew it, it seemed as if I was truly seeing for the first time that they were more than my parents, they were people. My heroes were human.
I wonder if that’s what my dad sees as we help my grandma back into bed and show her how to work the panels on the bed — a woman transformed from a hero to a human, reverted from a mother to a child. I wonder if he’s suddenly caught up in an onslaught of memories from his childhood, where she would call him in for dinner or applaud at grade school functions. I wonder if he is remembering who she was, when she was the parent tucking him into bed. I wonder if he ever wishes he could go back to being a kid, where everything felt in control and safe.
I wonder, because this is so often what I wish for myself. I know it’s not possible. I know that the roles you play change as you get older, and that it’s inevitable and part of the challenges of growing up. I know that you can’t control life, or other people, for that matter. And I know that unplugging the clocks won’t stop time anymore than you can go back or jump ahead.
I know that with every passing year, I’m going to change, and things are going to change with me. But suddenly, maybe for the first time, I wish that I could stay exactly where I am — cocooned between childhood and adulthood, between the ignorance of the past and the challenges of the future, between before and after.