Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Praise of Older Motherhood

My mother and father had me when they were 26 and 27, respectively, which means by the time they were my age, they had a fifteen-year-old. A sad, sulking, sarcastic teenager. I try to imagine having a teenager at this point in my life, and I am very glad I don’t.

I worry less that I’ll be too tired to keep up with her, and more that her experience of life will be so removed from my own, that it will hard for me to relate. I can remember making a solemn oath to myself as a teenager, that I would never forget what it felt like to be fifteen. It was probably after some emotional injury that sent me reeling into a black mood—unrequited love, parental blowout, peer group weirdness. I was probably scrawling bad poetry in my journal, tears falling on the page, letting the ink run, the words blur. I can conjure some reconstructed image of myself: part memory, part what I know of myself from my journals. Despondant, lonely, full of yearning.

But the truth is, viscerally-speaking, I’ve forgotten.

I feel a bit ashamed of this. As if I have failed my teenage self. Somehow, I’ve become an adult suffering from adolescent amnesia.

I turned forty-one this week. It hardly seems possible that I could be that old. When I am playing with Sophia, I can inhabit the giddiness of three. Playing hide-and-go-seek, crouching in the bathtub, waiting for her to find me, the effervescent giggles I am stifling are circa 1973. But there are other times, perhaps when she asks me be her baby and lie down in her bed while she covers me with a blanket and reads me a story (that she doesn’t actually read, but rather, silently leafs through) that I am gripped by boredom, longing to check my email and I realize, with some disappointment, that I am a grown-up.

I can’t say, though, that I would have been better off having her any younger, in my tumultuous twenties. Before I knew how to be a partner to another person, before I had made peace with my own parents, before I came to believe that my relationships take precedence over my vocational aspirations. I think she would have suffered as I stumbled my way through early adulthood, a casualty of my divided attention and self-absorption.

I think, now in my forties, I am truly ready to parent. I feel more able to be present for others than I have at any other point in my life. I am more patient, more attune, more sure of myself. I am encouraged by this, and, for the first time, entertaining the possibility that it only gets better. That by the time Sophia is fifteen, perhaps I will not need to remember what it feels like to be fifteen to be an effective, empathic parent.

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