The Half Life of Parenting and Other Things
Today my little girl Moira turned nine. She is half-way to eighteen, and she is my youngest child. Nine years ago, I held her for the first time. Nine years from now we hope and expect that she’ll be a high school graduate. I’m always careful about setting my expectations, but if all goes well I’ll be sending her off to college in nine years to join her brother as he starts his sophomore year. Time will tell, I never expected the last nine or ten years to go the way they have.
We are in the middle of everything. Jim turns forty this week. I turn forty in ten months. It’s my grand wish to live past eighty since I don’t have a single ancestor who’s lived that long. If I can make my goal, I may be nearing my half-way point. If I don’t make my goal, I’ve already passed it. Jim thinks I’m having a mid-life crisis, but I think I’m having a midlife emergence. It’s not bad, it’s a revelation of what is in the past and where I would like to go in the future.
I know I’m unusual in that I don’t pay much heed to cultural conventions or norms. I talk too much and am much “too open” about my thoughts and feelings, according to polite society anyway. I’m deep in a world that prefers Dancing with the Stars and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I hardly ever watch television, much less that kind of TV.
I’ve never been ashamed of being smart. I never questioned my work arrangement, my c-sections, my ability to be or do what I want, or my identity as a mother. I don’t feel diminished by anyone, though I resent the willful diminishing of others. I’m quite content with the person I am, and I have been content with myself since my early thirties. I spent most the first half of my half life riddled with my own insecurities about not fitting in the larger world. Then I gave up trying to fit in, and I’ve been extremely happy since I started just being me.
I’m not afraid of getting older. In fact, after losing so many people so early in life, I relish the idea of aging. I’m not afraid of my children growing up and rendering me obsolete because parenting is a temporary gig, and I knew that going into it. I’m not afraid of who my children will become because they are their own people, and I have faith in them. If I’m doing my job well, they will want me in their lives but won’t “need” me to define theirs. I don’t need to be needed. I just hope to complete this “active duty” parenting job with as much energy and passion as I began it. In some ways, I think the next nine years are far more important for my kids than the last nine. The second half of childhood is like finishing a braid, if you don’t pay attention, it will become entirely unraveled. Even with care, it’s unlikely to come out perfectly even. Life just doesn’t work that way, and that’s OK.
Still, today as my little girl emerges into the second half of her own childhood, it seems good to pause and take stock. We’ve come so far, with miles left to go. Facing those new miles it seems right to let go of things that mattered to me when I was a new mom with babies. I no longer have opinions or concerns about bottles, diapers, potty-training, or pacifiers. I have no input on preschools or kindergarten roundup. Those concerns belong in my past and to a new generation of moms. Sometimes, on the stairs I see shadows of the baby gate that used to be mounted to the wall. In the corner of our dining area lives the ghost of the high chair. Sometimes in a photograph I’ll recognize a baby toy long since given to a much younger child that reminds me I had much younger children once. We’ve covered a lot of ground, and now it’s time to change my pace to keep up with the children I have today, the nine and ten-year old. I still have young children, for now.
Happy birthday, Mo, my favorite shopping partner and enthusiastic traveling companion. I look forward to the next nine years discovering who we both are and who we are becoming together.