by Melodie Davis
for release May 19, 2000
So Teach Us to Number Our Days
At a banquet, I was sitting beside a younger couple who had children ages six months and three years at home. The couple marveled at how wonderful it was to be sitting at a nice table and not worry about a child pulling the tablecloth, messing with the silverware or spewing peas. They were almost giddy at their freedom.
A middle aged man whose children are almost grown said, "I'm glad it's you with little ones and not me, man."
That is the sentiment of many parents once they've raised their children. My own feelings are a little more mixed. I remember the first summer I went to the pool and realized I could enjoy the pool without have one child hanging on my neck and another riding on my hip. I was ecstatic! What freedom! On the other hand, I regularly coo and goo over babies in grocery stores. Why is this? Because they are so cute and tender and tiny? Because the grass is always greener? Because I need to feel needed?
Since we can't go on having babies forever, it is important to find other ways to be needed, and to continually practice the art of enjoying whatever stage of life we're in.
My college daughter was having a bad bout with a sore throat and cold. After a particularly rough night she e-mailed: "It occurred to me the other day that the days where you can nurse me when I'm sick are numbered. I never really thought about it before and it made me sad."
Ah yes, child; you know you are growing up when you start to notice numbered days. The innocence of childhood keeps you from realizing what a special time it is. For instance, a preschooler rarely appreciates the fleeting beauty of each day. And that's the beauty of childhood-not knowing you don't know! The phrase "number our days" comes of course from that most beautiful Old Testament passage, Psalm 90: "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
It is one thing to tell the young parents at the banquet: Oh, enjoy your children while they are young; number the days, don't wish it away. They will grow up so fast. But when it is you getting up two or three times a night with a two-week-old, you want them to quickly grow out of that phase. I heard a popular parenting expert on the radio talking to a woman who said she was trying to find a place for herself after raising her children. The "expert" suggested to her that the grandparenting role was very important, a "God-ordained" role almost as important as the parent's." This woman responded that she didn't want to just babysit, that she wanted to find her own life. She talked about the dangers of being too involved in her children's lives, something she had observed in other women her age. When we have done a good job of parenting, we grow to the next phase of life and gradually adjust to it. We may be in the stage of trying to wean ourselves away from our kids, avoiding unhealthy dependency on them. Or our children may be in the stage of learning to wean themselves away from us.
When my college daughter was sick, she called her boss at her campus job to see whether she should come to work. When the boss heard her raspy voice, she said, "Take a nap." My daughter wrote: "See, I still get mothered around here. Thank goodness for my friends here, who are willing to get something photocopied for me so I can rest a little longer, go to the infirmary with me, and get my supper from the dining hall. I do wish I could have my real mother though."
I felt a rush of gratefulness, that she was learning not only to better appreciate what her parents had done for her, but that she was translating that into appreciating what her friends were doing for her. And, I hope, return the caring to others. This reminds me that as parents, when we get beyond the stage of constant calls for "Mom" or "Dad," we need to look for ways to be of service to others. That is the way to "number" our days, or treasure them all.
For a free copy of my book, Why Didn't I Just Raise Radishes, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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