Happy 2017. Let’s start the year by talking about something that matters — meaningful time with the people we love.
Over Christmas 2015 — so, about a year ago — I was in Washington and saddled up at a bar in Bloomingdale with Chris Sopher, one of my favorite millennials (it is a running joke to make fun of him for his millennialness). Around that time, Friend Dave had sent me this post about how little time left we have with our loved ones, notably, our parents.
I was feeling quite weepy about it and started bringing it up all the time (as I do when I obsess on a certain topic. Current obsession: nuclear annihilation). Here’s the key graf and art:
“Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.
When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life. If I lay out the total days I’ll ever spend with each of my parents—assuming I’m as lucky as can be—this becomes starkly clear …
It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”
I was melancholy about this back then because I am one of those adults who doesn’t feel like she has grown up and therefore is over-reliant on my parents. I talk to them several times a week but even more so when I am cranky or have a cold or am homesick or really, any slew of reasons. I am terrified about losing them and brought up the above visualization with Chris. His response?
This is “problematic,” because it implies every unit of time you spend with a loved one has equal weight, when it’s not true. Frankly, you might be having a lot more meaningful moments with your parents now that you are older and more appreciative of them. So even though the BULK of your time (in quantity) with them is already spent, there’s still plenty of time for quality time, which is suffused with more meaning. Chris and I revisited this topic this week in a chat:
Christopher: My current thinking on that would be that it’s also about perspective. I think I have much more productive and fulfilling interactions with my parents now than I did a few years ago. And I just refuse to go through life with angst about what I am missing or running out of. Better to be intentional about spending it with quality people doing things you love.
Me: Do you think being cognizant of the limited nature of time helps you with that intentionality though?
Christopher: Absolutely. I wonder what i would do if i was immortal and knew it.
Me: I wonder what the default age we all THINK we are living until. I would say, probably our expectation is we will live past retirement.
Me: And we operate in that mode.
Christopher: We might not though.
Me: I’m constantly feeling like I don’t make enough use of my days though. Like, I am pretty lazy. Also, what is ‘quality’ time with ones parents? I don’t get into deep philosophical conversations with my dad, for instance. But i still consider us close.
Christopher: I think that’s a good question. I feel it is about self definition. I also think your family is what you want it to be. Many people have tough issues with biological family. i don’t see any obligation people have to that unless they choose that.
Me: You mentioned you’ve been spending more quality time with your parents lately than before. What does that mean to you?
Christopher: What I mean is that I think we are both more aware of why we enjoy spending time with each other, and when we spend time with each other, it brings us more joy because we understand each other better than we used to. And I’m an adult, where as 10 years ago i was still figuring out what I was about.
Me: Anyway I felt much better last Christmas when you rebutted that post. But I also feel unsure about ‘quality time’ and what that means
Christopher: You have to define that for yourself, I think. I’m not sure I know either. If I sit around and watch a movie with my parents, does that count?
Me: Not sure! I think we know AFTER. Like, I remember our time at the bar talking about this [very topic], and our relationships and other things, as being meaningful. (Me and you, not me and my parents.)
Me: So that’s an example of knowing in retrospect that time together had meaning to us.
Christopher:But you didn’t set out to ‘have an interaction with meaning’ at the time. You just set out to have drinks.
Me: Hahaha. Do you want me to do my google invites like that going forward?
Me: “Invite: Interaction with meaning time with Elise,” Yes/No/Maybe/Propose New Time