Youth is, by universal agreement, divided into stages: infant, toddler, child, teen, each stage distinguished by its own developmental milestones.
Adulthood, for me, has also been progressing in distinct stages. From my vantage point on the sidelines of mainstream America, I am a participant-observer, attending the events associated with each stage, but not moving through them in the same way myself. First came the wedding stage. Most of my friends got married with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance. I brought suitable gifts to Protestant, Catholic, Wiccan, and secular weddings. For me it was the bridesmaid stage, heavily infested with bridesmaid’s dresses.
Next came the house-buying stage. I packed and unpacked multitudes of boxes, lugged every imaginable type of furniture up or down stairs, washed acres of windows, and brought appropriate house-warming gifts to a long string of open-house parties.
Once everyone was settled, the baby stage began. Most of my friends produced offspring, over which I dutifully oohed and aahed. I sent onesies, Carter’s and OshKosh overalls to god-children, nieces, and swarms of other cute babies. From my women friends, I learned more than I had ever wanted to know about pregnancy, labor, and delivery. I even watched the video of one friend’s baby being delivered. I had never seen my friend from that angle before, and didn’t feel I had been missing anything.
Sadly, the baby stage was followed by the divorce stage, during which a couple of husbands walked out on their families, one married person came out as gay, and several couples apparently just decided it wasn’t worth the effort any more. This was the first stage at which gifts were not required.
Now I have reached the aging parent stage. A few of my friends have already lost one or more parents. All of our parents are beginning to need our help. The tables are slowly turning, reversing our care-giving and care-receiving roles. My own parents are selling the house I grew up in and moving to a condominium. I applaud their decision to do this before they absolutely have to. They are in good health and will make the move comfortably, on their own terms. It feels odd to think that I will never be able to go home again. My in-laws are taking the opposite approach. Their health is quite fragile, but they are determined not to leave the large house in which they raised their four children. They desperately need assisted living, but will not think of moving. This decision will probably hasten their deaths, but there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it.
I’m not looking forward to the funeral stage, which I expect to follow the aging parent stage. I’ve had a small foretaste of it already and, while it is good to see family gathered for the occasion, I do not enjoy the experience of pieces of my world being chipped away.