Overhead, rain pounded on the rooftop as I stood in my childhood bedroom staring out the window. The heavy spring-time shower formed rivulets on the glass, turning the back lawn into a green blur. My upcoming high school graduation and this week’s job search meant my childhood was over. But I felt fragile and unprepared to be an adult. I didn’t know what kind of work I wanted to do, let alone, if I was able to do it.
Being the youngest child in a family of seven children had allowed me to stay cozily tucked into a pocket of prolonged childhood where I avoided responsibility, independence and practicing adult activities. Mom and Daddy were born in 1905 and 1906 respectively, an era when women didn’t generally find a job or leave home after graduating from high school.
A mere nine months ago was the first time I even walked into a store alone to independently pick out and buy a pair of slacks. Now I needed to get a job, find a place to live, and buy household supplies. How was I going to do all this? I felt like a delicate flower facing a frosty night.
However, I had a strong desire to thrive and succeed.
In a 1980 song John Lennon wrote about his young son Sean. He sang, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” The adage proved to be true in my life. One day followed the next and instead of going to college that fall, I worked as a Nursing Assistant in Wausau and became engaged to a man I had met four months earlier. Life happens.
Five months later, Arnie and I were married, living in Marshfield in a mobile home with monthly payments. Shortly before our first wedding anniversary, a baby entered into our lives. Christy was born with a birth defect and was very sick. She died at two months of age.
How was I going to survive Christy’s loss? Somehow I did. Perhaps I was stronger than I thought. Arnie was at my side, too. Days, months and years passed. Our daughters Niki and Tammie were born. Staggering new challenges popped up. I survived them, too.
Mom was in her eighties when I decided it was time for me to takeover making the holiday meals for the family. Having never roasted a turkey, I had strong reservations, but it turned out moist and delicious. It surprised me when I noticed Mom enjoyed having the meal magically appear on the table before her as all my holiday meals had up to that point. She didn’t seem to regret passing the baton.
Macular degeneration caused Mom to become legally blind six months before she was 90 years old. I started to help her with bathing, pill boxes, laundry and bills. I was working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, raising two children with Arnie and taking care of Mom’s needs. I felt dependable and privileged for the part I played in their lives.
Mom died in 2005. In the following 12 years I suddenly lost my husband and son-in-law. Then both of my brothers sickened and died. I did what I had to do when it needed to be done. I grieved, but felt strong.
When arthritis made work painful, I retired from the hospital but continued making my growing family’s holiday meals. I occasionally wondered, “How long should I continue doing this?” The answer came to me last week.
My daughter Niki and I make a huge batch of sauerkraut in my basement every two years. Recently, she asked about supplies I had on hand and casually commented, “This year I’d like to make the sauerkraut in my basement for a change. It’s hard to carry 200 pounds of cabbage into your basement and then cart it all home to my house when it’s canned.”
Remembering how I had struggled to carry a 23-pound turkey up the basement steps for our last big holiday meal, I asked, “Would you also be interested in taking over the big family holiday meals?”
While I feel sad to relinquish hosting the meals and kraut making, I know the time is right. Degenerative joints may make us feel physically weak, but I’ve discovered tremendous strength in knowing when it is time to step back. Now I understand why Mom didn’t seem upset, but happy when I took over the holiday family meals.