It starts so young: The Idolatry of Youth.
My 8-year-old thinks I look old. The conversation goes like this:
Becton: You should get plastic surgery. [He’s seen this on TV.]
Becton: You look like a 54-year-old woman. [I AM a 54-year-old woman.]
Rebecca: What does that mean to you?
Rebecca: What do you think I need done?
Becton: Your face.
Rebecca: All of it?!
Becton: Yes. Then you would be beautiful and could wear make-up and a pretty dress.
Okay. So I don’t dress up a lot. But just this afternoon Becton was working on one of his reading comprehension pages, and the subject was Mary Lou Retton, the famous Olympic gymnast. The author comments that Mary Lou made it cool to be a strong, athletic woman. Becton turned to me and said, “Like you, Mom.” I was feeling pretty good.
I suppose I could have started a family young – like my mother, who graduated from college and married in the same month, and then gave birth to her first child a year and a half later. But I was too busy figuring out ME at age 22. And then when I was ready to be a parent, I was derailed by infertility. Parenthood for me began at age 36, and new babies continued to arrive until just before my 46th birthday.
I’m an “older parent.” Most of the time, I think that is a good thing. But, sometimes, I wish it could have been otherwise – for their sakes more than for mine. I remember that when I was getting to know Rachelle, when she was pregnant with Emily, she talked about being a teenage mother. She had her first child at age 18. She said she looked forward to the day when she could sit down at a bar with Sasha (her oldest) and share a beer. At the time she said it, I thought that was something I would not miss. Now, I wonder if I’m missing other important things in my children’s lives because I APPEAR to be too old to understand.
As I reread what I’ve written and think about the events of the last few days, I realize that it is not my age that concerns me so much. It is ANYTHING that distances me from my children. When they find fault with me – whether they pin it on age or not – they are pushing me away. And that is what hurts.
A new baby is totally dependent on its mother or parents. As he or she grows and learns new skills for independence, we applaud this as inevitable and desirable. But we are still in the honeymoon period when our children run back to us for the things they cannot do alone. Over time, the periods of independence become longer and the frequency with which they return for help, reassurance, or comfort lessens. The reality begins to sink in: “You are dispensable.” But wasn’t that the goal? It is a tough one to take.
When I was a “young” adoptive parent, I took solace in the words of Khalil Gibran, who wrote:
“Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
“They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
These statements seemed to put me on par with other parents – biological or not… But I failed to absorb the remainder of the verses:
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
“You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
“You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
“Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness. For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”
My prayer today: Make my bending be for gladness. Help me to bend to the will of the archer. Enable me to remember that I am loved for being the bow that is stable.