31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Learning To Live In The Moment

Single with Children: 'Today will never come again'

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/14/02

Even after all of these years, I could tell something wasn't quite right. I could detect an oddity in the tone of the voice as I checked my messages last Sunday evening. It was slight, but undeniably different. Perhaps a bit stoic. It was the kind of voice that had something sad to share.

I told my son that he should return his father's call as soon as possible. After many attempts but making no connection with his dad's cell phone, Justin called his dad's home. Upon reaching his stepmother, we were most sad to discover that my former husband's father had passed away rather unexpectedly. We knew he had been ill for several weeks, but we had no idea it was anything resembling this serious. My son and daughter had just lost their first grandparent.

Because of the many moves over the course of a career, we had always lived away from our home state of West Virginia, and the visits through all these years had been rather infrequent. We had moved from the East when Katie was merely 2 years old and Justin is the only native Texan in our family. Because my former father-in-law had suffered from ill health for several years, cross-country trips were difficult for him to make. Many summers we were busy relocating to different cities across the country and none of them were ever in close proximity to where the children's paternal grandparents had lived their entire life.

I guess we had always assumed that someday our kids would get to know the paternal side of their family. Someday they would catch up and hear stories about what their dad was like from their grandfather's and grandmother's perspectives. You know, the anecdotes and stories that our parents love to share, which make our kids double over with laughter or wide-eyed with shock, and inevitably make us cringe when we hear them, more often than not, without any embellishment required.

The thing of it is, that we can't count on "someday." As we discovered this past Sunday, "someday" doesn't wait for us to catch up. We only have today. This one moment in time and it's all that we can truly count on with any dependability. Whatever plans we may have for the future may stand on good intentions, but they come with absolutely no guarantees. Someday is nice if it waits, but every now and then we are reminded that it's cloaked in uncertainty and far more fragile than we allow ourselves to realize.

Later Sunday evening, I made a call to my kids' stepmother and found out the details of the funeral service. We reminisced about this man who was once my father-in-law and had recently become hers. She commented that when things like this happen, when we lose people closely related to us, it's a reminder of our own mortality. And she is right.

As I ordered a bouquet of flowers to send to my former mother-in-law, I was reminded of a line I read in the commencement speech that Fred Rogers delivered in May at Dartmouth College. He gently told the graduating class that we are all intimately related and expressed his hope that "may we never even pretend that we are not." A very special friend of mine shared with me that his own late father had frequently reminded him that "today will never come again." He, in turn, fashioned this philosophy by remembering to "never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because if you liked it today, you can do it again tomorrow." I embrace the positive spin and energy of that sentiment. It speaks of action rather than inactive contemplation.

I wish that I could somehow magically give my children more moments with their grandfather. I regret that they did not know him as well as they could have. Perhaps some of those cross-country moves should have included more visits home, even if it was in a different direction. Sometimes heading in the opposite direction sends us to the place we need to be.

I do know that this evening, before their dad attends the funeral of his own father, that we are thinking of the memories we have, sending strength and prayers and love. Even within a blended family, we still hold onto ties that need not be severed by a divorce decree. Relationships with family members of both sides of the parenting unit are not simply acceptable, but essential components in giving children a sense of who they are and their own unique family history. To allow a dissolved marriage to somehow eradicate that experience is an injustice to everyone involved. And as we discovered this past Sunday night, many opportunities should be taken advantage of sooner, rather than later.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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