One day when my oldest child was 9, he started going through my hair, one strand at a time. I informed the young simian that I was showered and clean, and the likelihood of finding fleas was slim. He’d just have to have cereal for breakfast like his brother. He persisted, however, and soon gave a shout of glee. I felt a little sting and he held up his treasure: one grey hair that he had pulled out from my head. I grumbled at this, letting him know that all my grey hairs had been fairly earned and I intended to keep every one of them. He should understand as he had helped me earn most of them.
We earn our first grey hairs just by becoming parents. Overnight, we are suddenly responsible for another human being, one who is tiny and vulnerable. The future becomes much more real to us as we see our little ones grow, almost as we watch.
There were some times, however, that I found it was better not to watch.
My children were tree climbers. Our old cherry tree wasn’t a challenge so they would, more often, climb the oak trees in the park. I didn’t think about it until one day, my oldest son called to me from what sounded like far, far away. I looked around and didn’t see him. Then he called again and I looked up. There, near the top of what had to be the tallest tree I’ve ever seen in my life, was my son, swaying in the wind just a little, as he hung on to the branches.
My son was proud of what he had done and wanted me to fully appreciate his accomplishment. That I did. I looked up, fighting vertigo that I had never experienced before, and let him know that he had gone as high as he could go. Now, if he would please come down, it was time for lunch. For a growing boy, food was even more enticing than the oak tree. I watched as he came down, branch by branch, occasionally slipping for an instant before his foot caught hold. Though I had been an avid tree climber as a child, from that moment on, I was afraid of heights. This was the same day my son found and plucked one of my grey hairs.
It was true then, what my dad said when I asked him how parents know when it’s okay to let children go just a little bit farther by themselves. He responded with a twinkle in his eye, “One day, you’ll find they’ve gone farther than you knew.” He was right. Not long after this, my sons came home from a bicycle ride and announced proudly that they had ridden all the way to the next town! I shuddered, thinking of all the busy streets they had crossed, but with amazing self restraint, I managed to smile at them and just say, “That’s great!” Then my mom stuff kicked in and I added, “You were careful, weren’t you?” This elicited the required groans.
I’m a “be careful” mom. It has never mattered how old the kids are, when they go out I have to tell them to be careful. They are gracious about this, sometimes even taking time to thank me and let me know how reckless they would have been, had I not thought to give them this reminder.
It’s their turn now. My oldest son has a child of his own and it’s time for him to earn his first grey hairs. I enjoy keeping track of his progress in this area. I think it’s one of my duties as a grandma. I take those duties seriously.
I also take my other duties seriously. I’m part of the “sandwich generation”, which means that between babysitting for our grandson and sitting with my parents, I rarely have time to eat more than just a sandwich. I’ve also become the “be careful” daughter. I have told my 85 year old dad, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, when he needs to do big jobs, like climbing on to the roof to secure the swamp cooler for the winter, he is to call me and I will send my husband and sons to help. When I said this, my dad smiled sweetly and promised to call.
He also had a twinkle in his eye. This means, of course, that the next time I called; he told me proudly that he got the ladder out the other day and climbed on to the roof to secure the swamp cooler for the winter. With amazing self restraint, I managed to smile and say, “That’s great!” Then my daughter stuff kicked in and I added, “You were careful, weren’t you?”
In a few years, my grandson will undoubtedly go through my hair and, after searching for awhile, he’ll give a shout of glee. I’ll feel a little sting and learn that he’s just pulled out one of my last remaining strands of brown hair.
Since it’s my grandson, I probably won’t even grumble.