It doesn’t seem that long ago that we took camping vacations with the kids when they really were kids, not adults: Ma and Pa in the front seats, kids tumbling about in the back (this was in the dark ages, when mandatory car seats for children had not been invented, and seat belt laws were oh-so-lax.) I remember one memorable cross-country trip when the three boys lolled about on the bed in the back of the van, reading comics, while their baby sister slept on the floor under the bed with the dog so she was safe from her brothers’ trampling feet. Guardian angels must have been working overtime to ensure our safe travels.
Well, times have changed along with seat-belt laws. Earlier this week, we were spending a vacation day on the road with the kids, only this time ma and pa were in the back seat while son #2 was at the wheel and his sister was in the passenger seat. “Everybody buckled in?” asked the driver solicitously, glancing back before he pulled out. Oh, yes, times have marched on, and we are gradually finding ourselves more and more often traveling in the back seat, not only on the road, but also in life.
The resident sweetie and I have been commenting to each other that we are in danger of becoming the old people we used to joke about (gently, of course): the folks whose meal times are regulated by their meds schedule; the ones who enjoy giving “organ recitals” when asked how they’re doing; (“well, the gall bladder’s been acting up again, but the bowels are doing well, thanks for asking.”); the folks who enjoy a little naptime after their lunch, and pull on a jacket and toque as they’re sitting around the campfire with their shorts-clad barefooted grandkids.
Oh, yes, we’re guilty of some of these foibles – perhaps not all the time, but too often. Where did the time go, and how did we get like this?
On the other hand, there are some wonderful things about being in the back seat, if only we can let go of the things we used to be responsible for. For me, that's a big if, but I'm learning. We’ve just finished ten days of camping and rumbling about with our children and grandchildren – at one point there were four tents and one trailer at the campsite, and often 14 diners were seated around the picnic table. I tried to think of a word that would describe the sometimes confusing, often funny , totally haphazard, mostly impromptu and unplanned time we had together, and came up with “hubbubzzlam” – a hybrid of hubub, buzz, and bedlam, but bathed in warmth and grace.
More and more, the RS and I let it all happen; trying to organize and plan our time is only an exercise in frustration with so many variables to include. We’re not driving this vehicle anymore; our adult kids are taking the wheel, and they are doing a great job. We won’t get to drink our morning coffee in peace, but we will have the pleasure of five granchildren straggling one by one into the trailer and having a little visit with Oma and Opa. They eat their “first breakfast” with us, perhaps play a board game, then head off for a beach ramble while the adults cook a bigger second breakfast (which they also are happy to consume.)
And if we don’t get an after-lunch nap, it’s because we are standing by the river cheering on our youngest grandboy while he pulls in a nice-sized salmon.
But you can be an active participant in life even if you are moving into the backseat, I’ve discovered. You don’t have to just sit and watch the world go by. When we take the children mini-golfing, we realize the outing is not about keeping score, but about the afterglow party at the end, where we sit together and joke and share stories. (When her daddy asks 4 year old Aerin whether she enjoyed golfing, she says, “Oh, yes, I just love the mint and chocolate chip ice cream. It is the best!”)
Later, eavesdropping on their conversation, we hear what they like about being with Oma and Opa: Opa makes them laugh and Oma spoils them and snuggles with them. You can’t get much higher praise then that, in my opinion. We aren’t taking the business world by storm, nor writing an award-winning novel, but we have our own spot in the universe that is making a difference for someone, and isn’t that where we’d all like to be?
Letting go and accepting our new roles is a balancing act. Yes, we’re finding that more and more, we’re in the cheering section rather than on the stage, but we’re still finding new challenges. For years and years I have protested that I hate canoeing, that my balance is bad and I feel too wobbly. But, this past week, we both got into a kayak for the first time. True, it’s a granny-kayak with a wide bottom (sort of like me), and a big entry portal to accommodate stiff knees. But we did it! And we liked it!
We’re heading off in a new direction, and there’s a bonus: in our kayaks, we still get to be in the drivers’ seats.