Saturday, August 13, 2011

Parenting, it never quite ends...

Thoughts today about our young wards...

Shaku and I were discussing last night how few times we've actually had a sit down dinner w/ Josh & Ezra since we came back from the US nearly a month ago. For all of the eager anticipation of family time together back here in the nest, we usually hear these big boyz coming home after midnight and see them only briefly, at times, during the week.

Not exactly the fulsome family time that we had hoped for during our 'summer together'...

In some ways, that is why I always planned our four to six week summer trips to the US and/or Europe since the boys were petite. At least on those excursions (what we used to comically call 'Napoleon's grand army in retreat'), we were together all the time, the boys in the backseat strapped in, often w/ an ice cream in hand, watching the world drive by, while we meandered among friends, family and national parks.

Yet, those memories have long since receded. Punctuated by Joshua announcing a few years ago, as we were driving from Oakland to San Francisco, that this would be the last family summer trip together. Fair enough. He was 17 years old, ready to spread his own wings, plan his own travels and adventures, free of the nuclear family, out in the world that he had been gazing longingly at in the back of our summer rental cars. Although slightly younger, I'm sure Ezra was feeling the same sense that an era had come to a close and their own youthful spirit was calling...

But, even though we went through such stages with our own parents in the 1970s, possibly even younger and with less humility, such are the realities of our endless growing up (older?) that we are still caught by surprise by such events in our own constantly evolving incarnation as parents.

I had a Skype chat w/ a close friend who lives in Geneva last night. She asked how the boyz were and I explained, half-jokingly, that I sometimes hardly know. She empathized given her experience three times over with her own big children in England and Switzerland. She, too, commented that when are children are far away they often need us more, it seems, but when they are back in the figurative womb of our physical homes, they feel safe and protected enough to ignore us (and their studies...) for large swathes of time.

It seems that this is a common parental refrain whether in Kathmandu, Geneva, Philadelphia, Berkeley and points west...

In this role as parents, we each bring our own emotional skills, physical needs, complex childhood memories, eager dreams and conflated personal histories to the rich and confused stew called 'parenting'. We also each have our strengths, passions and our limitations (let's not call them weaknesses, but fallibility's...).

Among some of our closest friends there is one Janjati (indigenous) Nepali, one Tibetan-Nepali, one Dutch and one Jewish-American. That's already a lot of people in the stew. In fact, just within the pair of us, husband and wife, who have formed our families is an almost global community in itself. Dutch-Tibetan in one family and Nepali-American in the other. A bit of the East and a bit of the West blended not just in the marriage, but also within each of us, since our Nepali spouses were educated in a western language and culture while we both put on our socks one day when we were in our early 20s and headed toward Asia to never quite return home...

Yet our kids have all been raised here in our Kathmandu Valley cauldron. They feel home here, they feel protected here, they know their friends here, they have few fears here, they long for this place when they are away; they want to return.

Meanwhile, in our parental role, we are tugged here and there, this way and that, up and down, inside and out, high and low, frightened and enthusiastic, uncertain and eager; apprehensive, at times, about what Nepal offers to our offspring.

Will Nepal offer them a deep sense of home, independence and rewarding professional opportunities or a Thamel cul-de-sac within a rigid, narrow and corrupting society? Will their lives expand here emotionally or constrict as the years go by? As blended children, Western education/Eastern values, one foreign parent, will Nepal open up for them more generously in the coming years or continue to treat them as short-term 'bideshi' (foreign) guests who actually belong somewhere else -- somewhere imagined they never actually knew.

Which way do we point our children? Which goals and ambitions do we light in their lives? What messages have we given them these one score years to illuminate their lives and hoist them on their ways? What messages have we given that we never realized we were saying? In what direction did we encourage them without knowing that we were actually non-verbal neon signs on their youthful horizons bleating a message that we hardly recognized within ourselves?

What did they perceive we were saying?

What did they hear?

What did they choose to ignore?

What did they understand -- even when we were saying something quite the opposite?

And now we are no longer four adults, two couples/friends sharing our lives, but eight, with Leah quietly observing the rest of us and already, no doubt, beginning to make imperceptible, lasting decisions and aspirations for her young life.

At this point, with children bigger, smarter, younger, more energetic and optimistic than us, there is only so much we can guide them. There are clear patterns in their own lives that are slowly gaining ground and coming to the fore. There is much that each of them will have to experience on their own. Our sons come together as a gang for the summer here in Kathmandu to renew their bond of friendship and trust, in an outside world that they feel is often alien and unsympathetic to their own.

They draw strength and sustenance from each other before they must put paddle in the river, once again, and beat forward toward their own dreams and in their own lives.

We are here for them, we will never leave them, but we are not them and they are no longer us.

Those fondly remembered charming childhood days of unity and family are passing with each day. They are moving further away to a distant personal horizon (as we did once...) to which we, their parents, are no longer the core or the center, but the broader periphery that set the original bounds of their lives, but are no longer its heart and soul.

In this we must, reluctantly, but necessarily, step very carefully, gently, to the side. We can neither impose nor restrict, neither define nor differentiate for them. They are young men, not merely our children, soon to start on the course of their own individual lives.

Our consensus is that of parents, loving, caring, supporting, encouraging, guiding, which we each do in our own personal, public and often private ways.

The journeys, dear Ithaka, dear Cavafy, are now theirs, as they leave us again this month or next, back to the demanding, challenging, ennobling world outside, where they are becoming themselves, alive to the laughter and sorrows of the lives around them, conscious that they, too, must find their place, their profession, their partner, their home in a world daunting in its scale, but also in its love.

May the g-ds look kindly on our children and protect them on their way.

Om Shanti! Om Shalom!


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