Just this morning, I did the thing experienced mothers aren’t supposed to do. I lost it on my daughter. She’s 11 and I’m 52. That makes me the adult. In fact, last year I was the oldest living mother in elementary school. I should be a total ball of zen-nicity. Yet suddenly I was going all Linda Blair after a morning of protracted nagging. Perhaps this rings a bell? “Hurry up – get dressed – brush your teeth, your hair, your tongue- shoes on- backpacks packed…move faster. Go!” You’ve been there. No expanded vocabulary required, just sixth grade level word retrieval. And yet opening a can of whoop ass can feel satisfying sometimes. Like binge eating foods dipped in Marshmallow Fluff.
Wasn’t it supposed to be a blissful experience entering mother hood again at 40? Wasn’t I supposed to have more patience and understanding about “the long haul” and “how fast it all goes” with my twins? And yet here I am, shrieking as my hormones retreat, as snappish and churlish as one of those cringe-worthy reality show teen moms prevented from a night of clubbing by their colicky unwanted off-spring.
OK, maybe it’s not quite like that with me. That was a tad dramatic. But as I swam my laps this morning trying to re-balance, I wondered idly if I really was too old to have kids this young? Was biology nature’s way of saying, “you won’t have the energy for this in a few years?” And yet how many of us are successful at making life fall in line with the perfect time to marry, procreate or change careers? Is there ever a perfect time?
I smile gently at the young women who emphatically tell me when they want to marry and how many kids they will have. I long ago learned that we don’t write that script. The friend with the repeated miscarriages knows that, the couple that can’t conceive, the mother who loses her son to a brain tumor, the wife whose husband up and leaves. The greatest part of life is our ability to dream big, but most of us are unprepared when things go awry or when dreams don’t come true.
When our first attempt to become parents at age 31 resulted in our son, my husband got on the bus to fatherhood with extreme speed. He was thrilled and so was I, but then again I knew it wouldn’t change his life in nearly the same way that it would change mine. But when our children didn’t come in the intervals we planned, when there was a loss and then a dry patch and then some sorrow, we were blindsided when the bad thing happened to us. And why shouldn’t it have? What made us any different from the family down the street? It’s not human nature to always feel so generous, though. The fickle finger of fate and the Ouija board are supposed to land somewhere else for the hard stuff.
When my twins were born at age 40, our “Team B” as my husband calls them, I resolved to work less and Mom more. I would be the chilled out mother I never quite got to be the first time around with the older two because I had been so concerned with trying to balance it all. And while it didn’t exactly happen that way when the girls were born, (chilled isn’t an adjective normally associated with Moms of multiples) I learned to relax into my choices, to stop trying to mute the working part in front of my stay at home friends or dial down the mother part in other facets of my life. I learned to accept that I am a person who likes her sack stuffed really full. What other reason could there possibly be for continuing to stuff more in it? Saying “yes” mostly felt better.
There is no question that as an older mother I have more patience than the 31-year old I once was who never thought she’d be spontaneous again. A six-year gap between Team A and Team B equipt me with a fish eye lens. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I do try to cherish the ride a bit more. On my second chance, I didn’t want to talk about mucus and home made baby food, I wanted to discuss my middle-agedness, my politics, the struggles of aging parents and husband’s snoring. I was never great at board games or watching Dora videos with my older kids and this time around I didn’t feel the need to pretend. I am no longer half-way apologetic or conflicted about working when I’m focusing on being a Mom. I regularly absorb the whiff of envy from friends when I spend a night away in a nice hotel with room service and first-run movies. I’m proud of my ability to earn my own wage at a career I love, even as I miss a few soccer games and a basketball tournament or two.
Motherhood is a selfless business. And like so many parts of being an adult, there are repetitive parts, as same-old as emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry. No wonder we grumble or watch our heads spin at times like a bobble-head on a dashboard. No wonder we lose our tempers. We all do. There are some who will swear that the right time to have children is when you are younger and full of energy. But in my 20’s I would have been too selfish, less patient, yearning to accomplish things yet un-named. I would have resented the recalcitrant child, the ungrateful eye roll or lip curl that soaks through their very being because that’s precisely what they are programmed to do. Anna Quindlen, one of my all-time favorite writers, says that “sometimes taking care of children full-time feels like a cross between a carnival ride and penal servitude.” Do any right-minded adults really enjoy a two-hour marathon of Candy Land or repeated rounds of Lego towers? Be honest.
Still, I wouldn’t trade this for anything, even as my friends with their newly childless homes are crowing about their lack of schedules and the fabulous sex they are re-discovering with their husband (yes, their husbands!). I’m still packing lunches and right now boys are still just something to giggle about behind cupped hands. I know that’s about to change. We’ve just had our first discussion about shaving legs and puberty lurks in the bathroom corners. I can smell it like basement mold. Most days, the can of whoop-ass aside, I feel incredibly lucky to be experiencing this second wave of motherhood. The first chapter feels like a temp job in retrospect. Time wrinkles and buckles, telescoping as the calendar flips ever forward.
There will only be a short time left when they will ask me to crawl in bed and cuddle, a limited time they’ll still believe I might have something important to contribute in the way of advice. But they’ll be back. Yes, they’ll come crawling back someday on their bellies as I did when I had children of my own. I take comfort in that. It’s already happening with my older two, the slow subtle gravitational pull of interest in what perspective their father and I might have to offer.
I’ll be 60 when the younger two go off to college. And Lord, that used to sound ancient. Now I can picture myself like one of those old Euell Gibbons ads for Grape Nuts as he leaps around the outdoors, brown as a berry. I may be gnarled and gnarly, but I’ll be at graduation day standing as proud as the 40 something parents. That will be me, the one doing the Bronx cheer. I’ll be celebrating and mourning in equal parts, not only for the days to come, but for the unsung ones that have flown by.
Lee Woodruff’s new book is Those We Love Most.