One hundred fifty-eight years ago today my grandmother's grandmother Sarah Harriet (Day) Hughes was born. Ninety years ago today my grandmother Irene Harriet Strause (Libby) was born. Forty-five years ago today I was born. In several months I will become a grandfather at the age of forty-five, at the same age as my grandmother before me.
The last birthday my grandmother and I shared together while she was living was three years ago. Her health had been fading for several years, but the summer and fall of 2006 marked her final days with us. In earlier years of my life June 9 was a marker of the relationship my grandmother and I shared. Some years it included a shared birthday celebration, almost always a visit (we lived less than ten miles apart as I grew up) and always a continuing reminder of how fortunate I was to be the first grandchild born to my maternal grandparents.
Beginning in 2007, though, this day has become a more pensive, bittersweet day for me. With my grandmother's death I am more cognizant of the cycle of birth, life and death. I am reminded of those blessed intersections in life that help to give us identity. For some reason 45 seems to be one of those symbolic markers. My grandmother was precisely my age today when she became a grandmother, and I will be (although not precisely) 45 as well.
There is something about watching a new generation emerge that roots a middle-aged person. During these middle years of life we have to acknowledge that our physical, temporal lives will not always exist. There will come the time when our physical corpus will be planted into the ground; we will leave behind a legacy, but it will live in the memories of others, not in our physical presence with those whom we love. Middle age is another of those golden opportunities for second chances.
I have struggled over the past decade plus to understand myself as a parent. I always believed I would be a good parent, and I had a fairly clear understanding in my mind of what that would look like. In my life as an adoptive parent I believed, let's be honest, that I would do my part to save the children of the world. I naively believed that children who had experienced early neglect or poverty or dislocation would find solace in the home my wife and I would seek to build upon a foundation of unconditional commitment and self-sacrificing love. My dream was that this solace would heal the wounds and provide a glowing future for the children I would call mine.
Now nearly thirteen years into the adoptive parenting journey I realize that my fantasies must meet the honest practicality of middle aged awareness. I must admit that in my zeal I overstepped my boundaries; I can no more save a child than a midwife can give birth to her patient's impending infant. As an adoptive midwife I can offer support, instruction, encouragement, the perspective of years lived. But I cannot make my child's decisions for him or her. It is as fruitless to try to change their hardwired tendencies or their moral freedom to choose as it would be to change the color of their eyes.
It is a complicated tangle being a parent. Having the highest of goals and offering the best of opportunities guarantees nothing in terms of outcome. And perhaps the reality is that the outcome is not ours to control anyway. It's kind of like turning 45. Who wants to acknowledge that about half of our years have already been lived? We cannot control that; we can only live it.
I am reminded today that the only years I knew my grandmother were the second forty-five of her life. And that gives me hope, that in the next half of my life perhaps the next generation of my children will do even better than the first.
I can live with that. And so can they.