As I look out over the Tucson mountains, at the saguaro-and-mesquite-filled terrain of my youth, I am struck with how the decisions of parents so greatly affect the lives of their children.
I grew up in the desert largely because my father had come here to play baseball at the University of Arizona. He grew up in New Jersey and, stuck inside his apartment on many a rainy day, he took solace in the Arizona Highways magazines he found in the basement. My mother had likewise escaped the elements in Chicago for college, and it was here that my parents met and decided to build a life.
My friends who stayed here in this place with impossibly blue skies nearly every day raised their kids similarly to how we were raised, with pool parties and football games on Friday nights, driving around amidst the cardinals and hummingbirds, worrying more about the inevitable summer heat than
the (rare) winter cold.
I left this place at 17, and never lived here again. It is hard to say why exactly but, like my father, I had fantasies of another kind of life. I liked pool parties, except for the embarrassment of how I felt in a bathing suit, but I hated that football was the thing to do. I had dreams of the Big City and all that it offered, of not having to drive everywhere, of museums and plays and escaping the heat.
Funny, fast-forward 30 years, and a strange feeling emerges in me when I hear my friends in Tucson talk about their lives. I have this twinge of regret for the life I chose, for not giving my kids what I had. I can’t believe that my kids never had a pool party with their friends from school, that they don’t know what it’s like to hang out on a Friday night under the bright lights of the field with school friends on the bleachers, to watch their friends cheer on the team, to watch the floats go by at homecoming.
My kids have such different experiences because of the decisions I made. I bring them here to the desert fairly often, so at least they know the smell that creosote makes after a rain, and what a roadrunner looks like, so they can feel inspired by the awesome mountains that surround the city of my youth, and play golf with my dad. I am wowed now by the desert home of my youth, and I try to share it with them.
Because it is not their home, and it never has been.
I try to squash any feelings of regret I have with a mallet in my mind, like Whack-a-Mole. There is no point now in ruing decisions made that cannot be reversed. I have to remember that I dreamed of being raised in a big city, of giving my kids seasons and a life on the East Coast I’d seen only in the movies, that seemed so filled with new adventures and possibilities.
I am not nearly done with parenting, as it, of course, lasts a lifetime. But I am in my mind more nostalgic than forward-looking about the decisions I’ve made for my kids. From here on out, it is more their decision than mine about where they go and what they do. They will make their own decisions, just as I did 30 years ago, and those decisions will have an impact on their progeny — should they decide to be fruitful and multiply.
Sometimes I wonder where my grandkids will grow up, and if they’ll ever have a pool party in the backyard or, maybe, be able to walk to the local library.
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