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2016-06-01 / Family Matters

A Letter From My 85-Year-Old Self

David Rockower

Dear David:
There’s a reason grandparents cherish time with grandchildren: We know and understand better than anyone that childhood is fleeting. New parents find this idea impossible to comprehend, as a single episode with a squealing toddler can feel like an eternity. But indeed, this phase of your life will be the most demanding and, as a result, will race by at breakneck speed. Despite the fact that you are entrenched in a whirlwind of responsibility and noise, there are ways to slow things down, to see them more clearly, to turn frustration into joy. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20, so I offer some advice to help you navigate what should be the most remarkable phase of life.

Choose your battles wisely. When Maddie is bouncing on her stool during dinner and crumbs are flying everywhere, don’t worry about it. She’ll clean up the mess; there’s no reason to bury your face in your palms and groan. I know what you’re thinking: This is better than yelling and scolding her for being messy. But, for Maddie, there is no difference. She sees your frustration, and then she feels like a disappointment. The next time Nathan leaves a trail of sports equipment strewn across the living room floor, don’t demand that they be picked up this instant. Give him a hug and a gentle reminder, or leave him a note. This way, he’ll take care of the mess without resentment toward his father.

Listen well. When Maddie tells you about her struggle with a friend at school, listen. If needed, take her into a quiet room and give her your full attention. She may go on and on about a spat that will be forgotten by bedtime, but the fact that you listened will mean everything. If Nathan becomes upset about a new house rule, consider his perspective. Ask him questions, and consider amending the rule or coming to a consensus. He will be empowered and know that his voice matters.

Lose the screen. There is nothing — no article, no text message, no sports score — more important than your children. I know you know this, but sometimes they wonder. They see you on that device, and they wonder: Why aren’t I as interesting? And soon, they will model their father: nose to screen, fingers on keyboard, iPad in hand, engaged with technology, disengaged from the world. Remember, I’m 85 years old, so I know what’s important. It ain’t the iPhone.

Seek moments of clarity. It’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it? You’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania for most of your life, but you only know a handful of trails. You run at least three times each week, but you mostly stick to the roads. When an activity-free weekend emerges, you watch movies with the family.

Get out of the house. Save the movies for rainy nights. Take the kids into the woods, hike, bike, go camping. Remember those camping trips when you were a kid? Yes, I know you do, because despite my fading memory, I can still taste the saltwater on my lips as I settled into my sleeping bag, just a stone’s throw from the South Carolina beach. The memories of nights in hotels tend to fade, but experiences in nature remain.

Admit fault. When you overreact, apologize. Saying you’re sorry doesn’t reveal weakness; it allows for vulnerability, and what a wonderful lesson for your children to learn: Parents screw up, and they know it. Owning your mistakes is huge. Ultimately, Nathan and Maddie will respect you for it. They will also learn how to be reflective and honest about their own shortcomings.

Soon enough, your house will be empty, clean and quiet. And all of a sudden, you’d give anything to see your little girl rocking on that stool — crumbs or no crumbs — and you’ll wonder why it ever made you the least bit angry that your son kept his prized possessions on the living room floor. Those were symbols of his passions, golden artifacts of his childhood. Back off, be patient, enjoy their imperfections, remind them, again and again, how they make you proud. •SCM

Love,
An older and wiser David


With a sports-obsessed 11-year-old son, a spirited 10-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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