Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pivot Point

Just before the summer -- at a rehearsal dinner for the wedding of dear friends -- I was asked how I felt about "having had children so young."

The query came courtesy of someone I do not consider a friend but whose social circle certainly overlaps with my own. I have nothing against this person -- a woman -- but no particular fondness for her either.

The question arrived early in the meal, spring-loaded, as if the asker had harbored it for a long time. It flew out of her mouth like a long-stored rocket...and landed in my lap, impossible to ignore.

At least 10 years my senior, the woman also has children, but mine are older. My eldest -- Big Babe -- just turned 29. Her youngest is still in high school...or elementary school, I'm not really sure.

I became a mother just shy of 24. She was pushing 40.

Now, at 52, I am becoming an empty nester as Little Babe prepares to leave for college. It hadn't happened at the time, but as of the writing of this blog, Middle Babe is engaged to marry her Gentleman Caller.

Wow. I thought, sipping my glass of Pinot Noir. Haven't heard something like that in a while. Long ago, I used to get variations on that question from the still-single peers of my husband. They were always delivered with the hint of a sneer.

What a peculiar question to pose, I thought, especially on this occasion. Would I ask this woman (or anyone) how she felt "having her kids so old?"

At 52, I'm at a pivot point, packing my youngest kid off for Muhlenberg College, posting Facebook pictures with my daughter's engagement ring and the super-romantic way her Gentleman Caller proposed.

At 52, my after-hours social and cultural life is richer than it has ever been, a counter-balance to my varied and busy work life.

At this age, with my love of dancing, singing and adventure, I've emerged as a born-again party girl.

But man, have I put in time over the past nearly three decades of being a mommy! Without resentment (really and truly) I spent hours in playgrounds, parks, libraries, museums and children's movies. Joyfully, I read zillions of books, cooked innumerable meals, packed untold bags of snacks, bought shoes and clothes and diapers of all sizes. I have toilet trained and taught to walk and talk. I have eaten baby food in an effort to entice. I have breastfed for a total of six years. I have attended first and last days of school. And parent-teacher conferences! And tedious performances by my talented kids.

I have stayed up nights and talked through heartache.

I have advocated for, and intervened.

I have challenged doctors and experts and authority figures. And mostly prevailed.

I have edited and tutored and studied with.

I have reread classic works of literature.

I have climbed jungle gyms to retrieve terrified toddlers from high bars. I have waded in baby pools. I have sat on beaches watching little ones play in the waves. I have been peed upon. I have been thrown up on. I have endured dizzying rides at amusement parks; then again, even the Flying Dumbo ride seems scary to me.

I have staged birthday parties and b'nai mitzvah. And partied with my kids like it's 1999, which once it actually was.

I have conducted Back-to-School shopping expeditions...most impressively in the days when we had no money.

I have buckled baby seats and toddler seats and airline seats.

I have lifted toilet seats.

I have spent the equivalent of years in disgusting bathrooms in supermarkets, gas stations, department stores and once, a funeral home with a wake in progress.

Open casket.

We found that out when we couldn't find our way back to the front door except through the parlor where the wake was going on.

For the better part of two decades I never had more than a glass of wine at a time or hard liquor (that started changing about ten years ago) and aside from some hash biscotti and the stray joint at a smattering of parties and a sojourn in Amsterdam and New Year's Eve in Berlin and some crazy events in the mid-80's when Big Babe was tiny, I have done virtually no recreational drugs since my adolescence.

How do I feel about giving the "best years" of my life to these endeavors and others that are forgotten?

Delighted. Honored. Happy. Blessed.

My kids have been part of my adulthood...right from the beginning. I have been able to parent with energy and flexibility and creativity.

When Big Babe was a toddler, I would turn on MTV and watch the great music videos with him. We have pictures of the two of us jumping on the bed together. I was a Mommy who loved Duran Duran and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and The Talking Heads and I shared that with my kid. We had adventures together, in matching denim jackets. I hated the concept of bedtime for my boy, so his early childhood featured experiences that most kids of older parents (or more conventional parents) never have.

Working as a freelance writer, I had loads of elasticity in my schedule. Short of money for babysitters, I sometimes took Big Babe with me on assignment.

When Middle Babe arrived four years after her brother, I was still in my twenties, living in a beautiful old house in Westchester. We were still kind of broke. Middle Babe became Big Babe's sidekick and the adventures continued, with with a car and a backyard. HOBB would often come home at night wondering where his family was. We were at the movies and late night at the library and friends' homes. We were out having fun. All of us, probably me most of all.

And even when my youngest was born seven years after his sister our family environment was unconventional though by this point my work life was more structured, something I rebelled against. Being broke was no longer an option with three kids and Jewish Day School so I changed my professional life, becoming a publicist, writing on the side, publishing when I could. Several years into my career as a publicist, I started my own business.

I had flexibility once again...but was busy all the time. I worked around the clock and on weekends and on vacation and at parties.

There is no point in denying the sacrifice that went into raising my family. I would have preferred to remain a full-time writer. Money has always been a struggle. I was more stressed out than I would have liked to be. For years, I hardly had enough time for friends.

This is simply the truth.

But other blessings came along the way. I traveled a lot, sometimes with my family, other times alone. I gained expertise and access. I have been at the hub of many exciting social and cultural happenings. I have encountered extraordinary people. I earned a graduate degree along the way. I built a business. I learned a heck of a lot.

And there have been three remarkable new souls in my life, from the moment of my young adulthood. Three now-grown human beings whom I adore and enjoy -- the loves of my life.

If I count the love of my husband/friend/helpmate who shared the incredible journey every step of the way, the blessings are quadrupled.

I suppose that what I did is front-load the work of raising a family.

Now I can party.

Sitting at my friends' wedding rehearsal dinner at the beginning of this pivot point in my life -- my baby soon to leave for college, my daughter a few months before her engagement, my eldest just a year and change away from 30 -- I abandoned the training in self-effacing graciousness I received from my mother and responded frankly to this odd query -- how did I feel about having had my children "so young?"

I hate to gloat, I said, taking note of the weary bags beneath her expectant eyes, but I'm pretty damn happy.


Even in Australia said...

Sorry, but to me this does seem like gloating. There are advantages and disadvantages to having children both early and late... and in the middle. And we don't always get to choose when we have children.

Charles Passy said...

Just stumbled on your blog through a friend's FB posting. I'm a guy, but pretty much in the same world -- Jewish, urban, writer, etc. More to the point, my wife and I had our first kid when we were in our 20s (I was 27, to be exact). And now that I'm 49, I totally agree with your perspective. The hard work was done when we were young and had all the energy (we had another kid a few years later). Now we're really able to enjoy adulthood before we even reach our senior years. But, yes, a lot of people looked at me like I was from Mars having a kid so "young." So, gloat away, I say. Compared to folks like us, I'd say the people having kids in their 40s, 50s and even later (I just met a first-time dad who's 70 -- I kid you not) are pretty weird...

Shira Dicker said...

Hi Even in Australia,

I completely agree that there are advantages and disadvantages to parenting younger and older and I would never dream of asking anyone about their personal choice...or pass judgment. I don't think one way is preferable to another either. I was inspired into airing my feelings after this provocative question was posed. I do not believe it was mere curiosity. And yes...I know that choice alone does not create children when people would like.