David Treadwell

David Treadwell

On a recent visit to Belmont, Massachusetts, my 23-month-old granddaughter Phoebe took it upon herself to test her parents. We were sitting at the dinner table, and Phoebe extracted her right foot from the booster seat and put it on the table. Her parents nicely but firmly told her to take it off the table. Phoebe frowned. A few minutes later, she slowly, imperceptibly, raised her foot and put it back on the table again. That deliberate action earned her a trip to the other room for a little “talk” with her father. She returned to the table all smiley, all curly-blonde hair cute, and her foot stayed where it belonged.

Welcome to the advent of the “Terrible Twos,” that predictable time when toddlers begin to express their desire to be independent by acting out.

Phoebe’s impish foot move got me to thinking about independence or, upon reflection, the three stages of independence, which most people experience during life.

The first one is, yes, the “Terrible Two” stage. I well remember my headstrong oldest son David respond to being told a firm “No!” several times by lying on his back and screaming, his face reddening, his mouth fixed in an angry square. Call it his “How-dare-you!” mode. David passed through that stage in due time, and today he’s an even tempered top executive at Amazon. I don’t recall my younger son Jon’s Terrible Two, stage, but it was no doubt less earthshaking.

The second stage, it seems to me, occurs in the late teens or early 20s. The young person says to him or herself, in effect, “I am my own person. I don’t need my parents to tell me what to do all the time. I’m ready to be on my own.” Admittedly, that stage now occurs later in life, because of helicopter parents and the changing economic situation, but it occurs, nonetheless. Or it better do so at some point for the sake of all concerned.

I remember when my mother was upset when I changed jobs, moving from the educational sector (Director of Admissions at Ohio Wesleyan) to the private sector (a communications firm in Baltimore.) I wrote a long letter to her saying that, while I respected her opinion she had to accept that I had become a man fully capable of making my own decisions.

My wife Tina got her comeuppance when her two sons, then in their early 20s, were discussing something and she said, “What I think you should do is…” One of her sons interrupted her and said, “Mom, stop. When we want to know what you think we should do we will ask you.” Kaboom. Message received. And she’s been good on that score ever since. Mostly.

The third and final stage of independence occurs at my age, the older years, the period when we’re forced to be more dependent on many fronts. Take driving, please. My hard-headed dad insisted upon driving well into his mid-nineties, even though his driving skills had diminished to say the least. When my siblings and I met with him to urge him to stop driving, he said, in a huff, “I used to be an excellent driver. Now I’m a very good driver.” Well, er, not exactly.

We oldsters become more dependent on the advice of our children yet we smolder when they give it. “Who are you to tell me … after all, I changed your diapers, etc., etc., etc.” We might even respond, I daresay, like a two-year old. “Why should I move now. I love living here. I’ll get by. Leave me alone.” We can no longer eat everything we want. We can no longer climb every mountain — or even every stair.

We forget names and appointments and birthdays. We lose cell phones and appointment books and keys. We become physically less agile and mentally less sharp. We lose good friends and close siblings and each loss shakes our foundation. We become less steady on our feet, less sure of tomorrow’s tidings. And, of course, we can no longer turn to our parents for advice because they’re long gone, although we can imagine what they might say about this or that issue.

I am quite sure I will fight the aging process as stubbornly as my dad did. In fact, when he was at his most cantankerous, I wrote my two sons an email saying, “Keep this email. If I get as stubborn as my dad about driving and things like that, please pull it out and read it to me at the right moment.”

And when they do, I just might, oh, I don’t know, I might put one of my feet up on the table.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]

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