How Watershed Moments Come to Define Our Lives


We all have watershed moments in the course of our lives. Days when, from then on, things become notably different. The day you left home, the day you got married (or moved in together), the day you had your first child – all days signifying something important, and probably good, was happening in your life.

Most of us have also experienced watershed moments that signified a loss. The day a relationship finally came to an end. The move to a new and less desirable house. The death of a friend or – more so – a spouse.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the genesis of the word ‘watershed’. It seems that it was originally a geographical term for a place where water coming off a mountain divided into two separate rivers, in other words, a turning point.

And that is exactly what it feels like, when your life is either enhanced or diminished by some change.

My husband and I have been very close to one of our two grandsons by the accident of circumstances. His mother was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer when he was eight months old, her husband (my son) was trying to complete a Ph.D., and they needed a lot of help – and fast. (She eventually recovered, I am happy to say, and is now cancer-free.)

We cobbled together a number of people to look after the baby, including the other grandmother who came from the US for the purpose, two outsiders and myself. And, somehow, we dealt with his various needs for the next months and more.

My husband and I bought a baby bed, a highchair, a pile of nappies (diapers) and all the accoutrements of babyhood so that he could come to our house on short notice. Which he did perhaps once a week or so. Sometimes more.

As he grew into a toddler and small child, our house was constantly responding to his changing needs, but it was always ready for a visit. The baby clothes became children’s clothes. We always had his favourite food of the moment.

My son’s old room became the grandson’s room and even my son’s place at our dining room table became his place. His little slippers were always in our front hall.

He felt completely at home in our house.

And then when he was six, his parents decided that the best primary school for his needs was one that was a ten-minute walk from our house (and 45 minutes by bus from their flat). To make their lives easier, we agreed that he could stay over with us on one night a week (and sometimes more). And we looked after him after school on other days, as needed.

To make a long story short, this child has been part of our day-to-day lives for 11 years. Some of this time was hard work – getting him up for school on days when I dearly wanted to lie in bed, going up the hill to collect him on cold and rainy days, seeing to his needs when I had other more pressing projects and so forth.

But taken as a whole, it has been both fun and deeply fulfilling. He is a very loving child, lively and interesting to talk to and full of opinions.

He has filled our house with his enthusiasms. He has kept us on our toes. And in some strange way, he has kept us young. Grandchildren do.

And suddenly, it is coming to an end. Several weeks ago, he finished at the nearby primary school. More drastically, the parents are going to live abroad for a year (with him) for an academic secondment. They leave shortly.

This lively grandson will no longer be coming to our house every week. Indeed, he won’t be coming at all for a year. His slippers are no longer in our front hall.

This is sadness enough.

But I realised that when they return, life will not go back to the old arrangements. The by-then adolescent will go to a local secondary school, where he will undoubtedly get caught up with friends, after-school activities and homework – all in his local area.

He will come to see us from time to time, of course, but he will no longer have that easy relationship that comes from seeing each other several times a week. We may feel close – I certainly hope that we do – but it won’t be in the same quotidian way.

I must quickly add that this is all right and good for him. Living abroad will be a terrific experience. He needs to grow up and find his own way. It was bound to happen.

But it is definitely a watershed moment for us. I watched him being driven home from our house for the last time in a while, smiling in the back seat of the car.

There was more than a slight lump in my throat.

Have you experienced a recent watershed moment? What was the triggering event? What did it make you feel? Have you had to separate from grandchildren because of someone moving to a different location?



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