Sunday, November 28, 2010
Adventures in Real Parenting: You May Find Yourself Living In A Shotgun Shack
Sophie likes to remind me that her birthday is coming up. I think it's because with a birthday on January 7th, she's always worried that her special day will be lost in the downdraft of the holidays - Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years. Come January 7th, it's true, we're suffering celebration fatigue and as a teacher's family living on that once-a-month paycheck that comes early in November and then again early in December, January is typically a month with little cash flow, sapped energy, the grumples due to a return to the routine after a long break and the general grayness that is January.
She's right to worry.
At the age of 12, I felt I knew the month of January, too. In my journal, I wrote on January 14, 1978 "God, I hate this month. It's like an entire month of Mondays. I am ready for it to be February already. No, actually, I'm ready for it to be June. I'm sick of this cold weather and I'm sick of school."
What I wouldn't give to go back and tell that 12 year old kid to stop wishing her life away. And to apply herself in school and listen to her instincts more. And to stop whining about the cold. Just wait until she stood on a train platform in Rosemont, Illinois at 5:30a.m. with the temperature hovering around -4 Fahrenheit and a north wind spanking her ass with icy fingers. That's when she'd know real cold. Dog-sledding across the frozen tundra cold. Fallen through the weak ice into the freezing water cold. Watching the warm people in their cars drive by in a blur cold. The damn it, I can't feel my fingers or my toes cold.
So last night my own soon-to-be-twelve-year-old reminded me that in January of 2012, she'd be thirteen. "How does it feel to know that your last child will be a teenager in less than two years?" she chirped. "Old?"
I looked at her across the room as she sat swiveling in my office chair. My laptop and pile of books and I decided earlier in the day to not leave the bed. "Actually no. I don't feel old at all. I feel quite young. Like a kid," I answered truthfully.
"But?" She didn't know where to go with this. "I feel old sometimes," she blurted out.
"Really? When? And why?"
She spun around in the chair, a definite sign of rapid aging. "Oh, you know. When I think about how I'm done with elementary school already. Or when I see kids who are in, like, the third grade and they seem so young." She gave herself another spin.
"So in relation to other people you feel old?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"When I was your age, I thought I was pretty old, too. I was even complaining about the cold like some grumpy old woman. But you know what? I had no idea how much of my life was ahead of me. I had no clue that one day I'd be my age..."
"Forty-five," she cut me off to ensure my accuracy, the little tart.
"....right. Forty-five. I couldn't imagine being forty-five and having three kids and living in Georgia or that I'd be married to some guy from Chicago and all the rest of it."
"No one knows what their future will be." Ah, wise words from the child with fingers still bearing smudges from oil pastels.
"So what's your point, Mother?"
"No point. No point whatsoever. But when you ask me if I feel old and I look at myself with my hair tumbling down my back and skinnier than I've been in years and, except for my sore neck and shoulder, not feeling any older than I did when I was your age, I realize that I still don't know what my future holds. And the thing is, I can plan and I can work toward something, but I'm still not going to know. So why not just live?"
"You're getting philosophical on me."
She gave me the one-eyebrow raise, the look that says so much with just a few small movements of facial muscle. "You know that hair tumbling down your back is silver, right?"
I gave her the one-eyebrow raise right back. "I'm aware. And guess what? No birthday party for you."
Get into the time machine and go back to your young self. What would you say to that kid? Do you remember being twelve? Are you feeling old? What's new?