You’re Never Done Being a Parent

Well, here I am, an empty-nester. Again. Sons move out, sons move back in. Then out again.

Between two kids, one trailing the other by 18 months, things seem to happen in tandem. Not much lag time between life’s stages and changes. When I had them so close together – an event that caught me by surprise – it was tough for a while. Two in diapers, two in cribs, two needy, dependent babies. I’ll never forget the words from one of my wise friends, who only had one at the time (her second would come when the first was five. I was envious that she actually had time to breathe). “You’ll see how great it is as they get older. You’ll be able to do things all together; same movies, same activities. No generation gap.”

At the time, of course, I heard her but couldn’t really believe her. But now, I’ll say it. Cindy: you were so right.

So, my boys have filed out in short order, one right behind the other, and I’m feeling alternately happy and sad. It’s freeing, in a way, to have some solitude. No longer does my son burst through the door after his trying day at work, interrupting my work, insisting he needs to talk. And so what if hubby and I want to run out to dinner at the last minute. We don’t have to feel guilty about leaving him home while we’re out enjoying ourselves. (I know, I know. He’s been away at college and he’s used to being without us, but somehow it’s different. When they come home – no matter how old they are – they’re still, well, children.) What’s there to be sad about? I’ll just say that sometimes I miss having them around; just feeling, smelling and hearing their presence. It’s that simple.

So, let me get to the point I started to make before I became all mushy. My point is that even though both my sons live on their own, they still have a lot to learn and I still have a lot to teach them. They’re out food shopping for the first time, no longer confident that when they open their refrigerator, food will somehow magically appear.

My younger son was so proud the other day when he told me of his latest shopping trip to Trader Joe’s. “Mom, you’d be so proud of me; I bought healthy food. Multigrain bread and organic canned soups!” Uh, oh, I thought. I didn’t want to make him feel like he was incapable of taking care of himself. But I couldn’t keep it to myself. So, with all the decorum I could muster, I said that most people don’t realize that these things are not the healthiest choices. I told him that “multigrain” means nothing more than a variety of grains in the bread. I went on to explain that these grains have to be “whole” grains to be healthy grains. There could be 30 different grains in the bread, I said, but if they’re refined and processed, they’re no healthier than plain old white bread. If the label says enriched, bleached, unbleached, semolina, durum or rice, put it back. Instead, look for words like “100% whole grain,” or “100% whole wheat.”

He looked at me like I was the smartest mom on the planet.

And canned  soups, I said, have so much sodium in them (not to mention BPA in the lining of the cans.) Watch out, I told him, since the majority of our sodium – something like 77 percent (!) – comes from eating prepared or processed foods. Even though you may not be shaking the salt on, the food itself may already be loaded with it. Most health organizations recommend healthy adults should stay within the range of 1,5000 and 2,400 milligrams a day. And even if a food doesn’t taste particularly salty, don’t be fooled – a 4-inch oat-bran bagel, I told him, has 451 milligrams of sodium. Although not everyone is sensitive to the effects of sodium you can’t tell if you are, so play it safe. (He looked perplexed, and I suddenly realized that he really does resemble me. His look was akin to how my face scrunches up when he is trying to explain a complicated computer application to me.)

I told him to look for major brands that say reduced-sodium or “heart-healthy.” Also, I reminded him, remember to eat foods that are naturally lower in sodium, like fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh (not processed) meats, frozen chicken that has not been injected with solution containing sodium.

The kid may be done with college. But he has some heavy homework to do.

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