Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Planned obsolesence

G and E are tall enough to reach the upper rail in the Underground trains. You know, the railing suspended from the ceiling. They've been on the Washington Metro, the New York Subway, the Paris Metro, and, as of a few weeks ago, the London Underground. Their first trips on the Washington Metro were in strollers. Then there came a day when they had stamina enough to leave the strollers at home. And now, about two weeks later, they're standing next to investment bankers and Asian tourists loaded down with bags from Harrod's, holding on to the high bar and casually swaying with the rhythm of the train.

What I learned in London was how near my job is to being done. I watched as my girls interviewed the directors and assistant directors and heads of departments of various museums you've heard of. They took out their Clairefontaine notebooks, pulled their chairs up to the tables, and led suited-up men whose next meetings involved arranging tours for the G 12 first ladies through a list of questions about the museum profession. I kept track of their coats.

After one of these interviews, their Aunt A and I were sitting with them in a café on the Embankment. A asked what they thought they might like to do when they grew up.

I'm not sure, said G, except that I know I want to do something that helps.

We've tried to teach them to recycle, to buy seasonal produce, that it's possible to read a novel and cook dinner at the same time. To take the dogs for a walk. Separate whites and colors. Fertilize the geraniums. Keep up with friends. Eat three meals a day and get enough sleep. Help the person with a stroller. Watch movies. Hold the door for the next person. Tell stories.

What they don't know yet are some of the mechanics. How to read a subway map. Wear your purse over your shoulder, across your body, in the city. Put your change away before you leave the cashier. Be aware of your surroundings. They're the skills that my mother taught me, began teaching me on our first trip to London. They're the skills that made me feel competent and capable when, not that many years later, I was in London and New York and Paris on my own.

It seems to me that planned obsolesence is the goal of parenting: to bring up your children not to need you to bring them up any longer. When G, sipping her hot chocolate, said casually that what she wanted to do was to help--and that she wasn't sure, exactly, how she was going to do that, only that that was the thing that mattered to her, helping other people, making things better--A turned to me and said: I think your work here is done.

Almost. We walked down into the Underground and I reminded the girls to hold on.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Mme Marron!

    Your daughters are so fortunate to have you. It is actually very rare to hear a parent speaking about his or her upcoming retirement from active childrearing with certainty and satisfaction. I am happy the girls and you because I know that your attitude will guarantee years of warm and open communication.

    This is a lovely post. I'm glad to have been able to read it. You are a wonderful writer.