They say having kids around keeps you young. Conversely, I actually find that having kids makes me feel older, but usually in a good way.
Growing Up Is Hard To Do
Into my 20s I was still waiting for the day I would grow into my life like a new pair of shoes. Extended adolescence is a thing, and everyone I knew seemed afflicted. My generation was going in many directions and none of them were toward stability.
Then I unexpectedly became a parent. Conscience demanded that I drag my hungover ass to the park every day, make real dinner and read baby books over and over. Sometimes Fake It Till You Make It is your only option.
Before I knew it the sense of responsibility began to bud into little sprouts of authority. Shared looks with other parents in the store. I found myself telling my own mother what to do, my child’s routine and preferences.
My life has been full of dead ends where I found myself backtracking. Development of myself as an authority has been fitful. I spent my 20s either in school or living with family while I raised my son. The world outside can get to looking very big and complicated.
Then, once again, conscience demanded action. I found myself with two young teen girls who desperately needed a mother. Of course, they didn’t want me. As a child of divorce, I understood. I dug my heels in and worked hard to establish myself in the situation.
Parenting Teenagers: OMG We’re Surrounded!
It’s not something you can tell them, plans and promises are empty for children of liars. It’s something that you have to just do, again and again. You have to play the long game. You have to say no, and you better have good reasons because they can smell inconsistency like blood in the water.
They’re used to loose boundaries full of loopholes. They threatened mutiny when I instituted a bedtime on weekends. They bend and slant situations for their own benefit. Explanations for their mistakes always begin with someone else’s name.
And sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you have to hide in your room and cry, you feel so small and lame. How are you ever going to make a difference for them if you can’t even keep yourself together?
Then you remind yourself of the time scale. You remind yourself that you’re what they’ve got. They’re counting on you whether they know it or not. You wipe your face, crack a bottle of wine and dive in again.
And slowly they begin to relax. Standing firm against their pushback gives them something to lean on. They call you during their little emergencies, yell at you when you don’t give them what they want, tell you they love you and hang up.
Later she apologized on her own. “And you were right, of course.”
Wait, When Did I Become The Adult?
At some point I got to be in my mid-30s. I wear a lot of below-the-knee skirts and flats. My eyes are tired and my hair is lightening around the edges. Perfume bottles stand like party guests on top of my dresser. I’m that lady.
I roll my eyes at a lot because I remember it from 20 years ago.
I’m not afraid of 40. I don’t feel insecure that I don’t get K-Pop or how exactly “joggers” are not sweat pants. Because I have more important things to worry about.
When my first son was little, wrenching myself out of bed every day was something I did because I knew it was the right thing. I wish every situation in life was so clear-cut! I did it because I wanted him to have memories of his mom playing with him, not avoiding him.
My own parents played this fun game where they managed to avoid you without actually going anywhere.
I figured at least I could give the kid the impression someone cared.
Because I always did. But now with my second son it’s different. I rise with the question, “What are we doing today?” Every day is another refinement of a system that constantly evolves.
Some time in the last decade I became an Adult. I have begun to encounter the amazing effect of assumed authority. When I walk into a school, I let my attire and body language do a lot of the talking. I don’t have to justify my presence to anyone which is a weird, new thing for me.
The Don’t Wanna!
And at the age of 35 I think I’ve finally gotten over the hump of the Don’t Wanna!
Kids especially beat their heads against the wall of Fate, cursing existence for putting them in a position to do something against their will. The toddler screaming because he doesn’t want to sleep is like the teenager who won’t wear a coat. The sense of personal impulse is most important.
I think a lot of people never really get past this. Paying your bills is hard if you have to convince yourself that you want to every month. Dishes pile up fast and tend to stay there when energy is spent struggling with the Don’t Wanna instead of just getting things done.
Because they need doing. So we can have clean dishes. It’s amazing how well you end up thinking things through when the kid won’t stop asking questions.
Because not every situation gets a grand explanation. Because a lot of life is tedious. It can’t all be important. And all those high-minded notions are probably just a work-around for the Don’t Wanna.
As I get older, my sense of identity is less dependent on the moment. I can change my presentation entirely for a new job in an unfamiliar environment and not hear the little voice say, “Is this what I am now?”
And when I do express myself it’s easy because I have carefully curated my collection of stuff. Trial and error have taught me what works, what I like. The Self can’t be found, it must be created.
Basically, so much thought that becomes second nature around puberty is melting off like baby fat off a relay runner.
Situations that would have freaked me out in the past are handled with customary frenetic focus. Only later do I sometimes look back in amazement at how I have become.
Seems like being a step-mom is finally grinding down the last of my Don’t Wanna, and I’m happy to see it go. The constant questioning of youth is answered by the honed execution of middle age. I’m existing in the brief moment when I have learned enough to get by and still have the energy to do something with it.
“You don’t know how badly I want to skip school tomorrow.”
As I watch my kids step through the stages unaware they aren’t the first, I enjoy the space between us. My extra perspective is a steadying force, insulating me from the crashing waves of sensation that can be so all-consuming.
Life is sometimes boring and disgusting. If you want one, you have to accept this.