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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Friday, May 19, 2006

How Pia shook me

I started my day before 6am, a sure sign of old age. I turned on the computer, logged in and waited 10 minutes for everything to load because there is way too much stuff on my computer and I never get around to cleaning out e-mail. The number of messages in the inbox would frighten any sensible person.

I was sailing along, researching and writing for GenevaLunch and feeling pleased as punch about the steady stream of visitors - I've barely begun to let people know about it and we had about 50 new visitors today. I wouldn't say I was feeling smug, because I was grappling with how to best add 3 photos to a story about bio winemakers in Switzerland. But I was happy, work was going as it should, life was not bad.

And then Pia phoned, from her cell phone. She never uses the phone in her house because there is too much competition for it, from her 4 children, her husband, her Philippino helper who is a member of the family, her guests, her visiting inlaws and visiting family. In short, Pia, a Finnish woman from the Swedish-speaking part of Finland, who used to be an airline flight attendant and is now a mother and real estate agent and I don't know what else, lives life on the go. There is so much going on at her house that I'm breathless trying to catch up, just listening.

In fact, I had to lean out the window to listen, since my cell phone won't work through our 300-year-old walls, the downside of living in a charming lakeside Swiss village. They just weren't thinking ahead, those old urban planners. They were more concerned with wild Lake Geneva winds, so the design of the village is a little peculiar, with narrow streets that bend and twist to trick the wind.

Here is what Pia said: my 17-year-old son was at her house right then, early afternoon, for a barbecue to celebrate the end of exams. He had said, in answer to her question, that no, his parents were not going to the graduation ball. Why? Because he'd said no way, they shouldn't. He has a girlfriend, this is the end of school, a kind of graduating class thing where parents have no place.

Pia exploded, probably to his surprise, since there are few explosions in our house. We have a kind of getting-by mentality, largely because our 13-year-old mentally handicapped and autistic daughter saps our energy. We don't plan ahead; we live from minute to minute much of the tiem.

Pia's point was that this is a Big Deal. You graduate only once from high school, and if you go to a school, like this one, with kids from 110+ countries, when you leave there is a good chance you'll never see any of your buddies again. More than that, you're crossing a line to adulthood. Your parents need to celebrate this, and so do you.

In our house, celebrations are a hassle, so we downplay them. Christmas lights didn't go up last year, or the year before, because everyone was too tired to do it. The lovely holiday dinners, with my mother's precious Fosteria dinnerware that I've inherited: too much hassle and trouble. Tara, my daughter, eats wrapping paper and paper napkins. She can't sit still for a meal and tends to suddenly leap up from the table with a chunk of meat and a few leaves of dressing-covered lettuce in hand and run off to our bed. She likes that space, and since she also likes food, she carries favorite bits of meals up there. No one deserves a bed llike ours.

So special events get downplayed, and last Christmas I realized that our son was growing up with an attitude of "what's the big deal", to which I hadn't yet come up with an answer. except a vague "It's depressing."

Pia, bless her soul, had the energy to answer today, indignantly. "He'll only do this once in his life!" He's leaving home! He's saying goodbye to his friends! His parents deserve a night to celebrate this because it's a Big Deal for them, too.

And suddenly I saw this stream of Big Events in my son's life, too many of them ignored, and I thought, she's right. If we don't insist that this is one of those moments, one of those thresholds, he will not see it that way until it is too late and he will feel cheated, by us perhaps, or maybe just by life.

There is very little time left to share the wisdom of the older adult.

And that's what it all comes down to: we actually are wiser, and more experienced, to our astonishment, and we should be sharing that. We are marking his step across a magical threshold into adulthood, but at the same time, we are acknowledging that we, too, are crossing a threshold. Wisdom, we can finally embrace you!

Thanks, Pia, for making us step back to ssee our role. Kinda cool, really.


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