We all wax nostalgic about being a kid. Those were the days of playing outside from sunup to sundown all summer long. Of sleepovers at friends’ homes and pick-up games of kickball in someone’s backyard. Of having our biggest worry be the math test next week, or what someone whispered about us in the hallways.
Those were definitely the days. What did we have to worry about?
Now we are grown. We’re married, have kids, pay a mortgage. We go to work every day, and we don’t necessarily like our jobs or our bosses. We get two weeks off a year, and fret about getting sick because what if we don’t have the sick days to use? We have bills to pay and car payments to make. Sometimes we lay awake all night, fretting about our lives.
Is this why it sucks to grow up?
For me, all of this pales to the real reason growing up sucks. Being an adult means that now we watch the heroes of our childhood, our fathers and mothers and grandparents and aunts and uncles, brought low by age and sickness. We see how very human they really are, that they aren’t the titans we thought they were.
My mom called me this morning. I didn’t hear the phone ring as I was blow-drying my hair, but Grace brought me the phone. Then I heard my cell phone going off, and I knew my mom really wanted to talk to me. She rarely calls both phones.
My grandpa, age 82, had given all of us a scare earlier this week. My grandparents were sitting there having lunch, as they do every day, when all of a sudden Grandpa’s eyes glazed over and he became unresponsive. Immediately my grandma called 911, and by the time the paramedics arrived, Grandpa was responding again. They took him in to the hospital, where he spent the night for observation.
Grandpa is suffering from some dementia, and one of the medications he’s on has the possible side effect of a sudden and serious drop in blood pressure. The doctors think this is precisely what happened, so he’s been switched to another medication. But now that he’s lost consciousness like this, the doctors have forbidden him to drive.
My grandfather is a fiercely independent man. He studied for and received his PhD in history while my grandma raised three young kids (my grandma’s a saint, I tell ya). He found a job at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, by which time they’d added a fourth child, and packed everyone up to leave Michigan for his new job. They’ve been in Pennsylvania ever since, though most of their family is still in Michigan.
This sickness of his, the dementia or Alzheimer’s or whatever it is, is robbing him of himself. A man who owns hundreds of books can now no longer read, as he can’t remember what was at the top of the page by the time he gets to the bottom. He’s also becoming irrationally jealous of Grandma, believing that his wife of 60+ years wants to leave him for another man (which couldn’t be farther from the truth).
I remember my grandpa as a quiet yet firm man. He can be rather opinionated, the Dutch in him coming on strong. He wasn’t a terribly affectionate grandfather, but I never doubted that he loves us. And he loves my sister and me as much as he loves his other ten grandkids, even though technically Michele and I are “step”grandchildren. We came into the family in 1985, when I was 6 and my sister was 10. And I never felt I was any less of a grandchild, though I shared no genes with my grandparents. They’re the only grandparents I’ve ever had, and I am so grateful they showed us such unconditional love that had nothing to do with whether we were their “real” grandchildren.
It’s just so hard to see my grandparents succumbing to old age. Even Grandma has her issues, like breast cancer a few years ago. She’s really slowed down; she can’t walk as far as she used to be able to. Sometimes it’s hard to remember she’s 80. But then I see photos from 20 years ago, when I first became part of their family, and I realize — they were the same age then as my parents are now. And these 20 years have flown by quickly. It won’t be long till I’m facing these issues with my own parents.
I’m telling ya, growing up sucks.
My grandparents, Ernie and Mary Ellen, 13 September 2007.