So, 20fingersand20toes asked me, aren’t you glad you didn’t have kids at 20?
[Put aside my fascination with her blog lately, spurred by the fact that two people I love dearly are expecting twins. Yay twins!]
Anyway, my internal banter was piqued by the “have kids young or have kids later” debate. When is the best time to throw your life into upheaval to raise little citizens of the planet? Ah, the $64,000 question. (Intentional cultural reference to something women who are 20 won’t get. In fact, some people who are 40 won’t get it, either, for the 64-thousand-dollar question was an E-ticket that Gen Xers may not remember, either. I watched a lot of reruns.)
20t20t had twins ’round about 40, and I had one sweet, quiet, out of control, VERY attached, borderline high needs, amazing Peanut in my mid-thirties. And I often wonder aloud if it’s better later or better sooner.
Because when you’re young you, in general, don’t have much life experience to offer, and might well feel frustrated at the captivity inherent in a decision as permanent and all-encompassing as having kids. (My favorite quote, which my friends are sick of hearing, from a Parents magazine article, is:
“From the parenting expert:
Q. What’s the one thing you wouldn’t say in one of your books?
A. Becoming a parent is like contracting a debilitating disease. Imagine a disease where you couldn’t sleep, you couldn’t have sex, you couldn’t travel, you had aches and pains all the time. Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. In fact, the more you love them, the harder it is. Nobody tells you what the pull of loving your kids will do to the rest of your life–including your relationship with your spouse. “)
[No, I don’t have a citation for that. It was some time this year in a feature article. There. Happy? Of course not–that was a crappy citation. As an academic researcher I would never quote another author without full documentation. But I’m a barely functioning full time parent who might actually lose her mind within the hour, and I could give a flying fig newton if Parents magazine sues me for improper use of the writing they publish in order to sell ads. Go ahead, Parents magazine, pursue your silly little lawsuit. Then go take a flying leap. You publishers and writers and photographers and lawyers have money and respect and adult interaction, and if you want to make my day you’ll push me into a fight over intellectual property. Go ahead. I need a project. I know all about satirical uses and misuse of copyrighted material for personal gain. Here’s a shocker–I’m not making money from this blog. Read the trackback from blogherald.com. I’m refreshingly not-for-profit. Stick that in your editor’s pipe and smoke it.]
Ah, yes. Older moms versus younger moms.
Seems to me now, that 18 year olds who have no life yet (nasty email replies acknowledged in advance, but it’s basically true) and little education have it easier–they don’t know what they’re missing, they don’t realize the inequity inherent in the process because they haven’t been independent long enough to know what balance is. By 40 you’ve built your successes, learned from your non-successes, decided what is important in your life, been around the block, earned some money and some respect. You know who you are (and you know what you expect parenting and co-parenting to be like). And babies turn all of that on its ear. You have to understand that their every response to you is respect and gratitude, because you’re not going to get performance reviews or critical reviews, performance bonuses, or even cost of living advances. If you choose to stay home you have what I now feel is the hardest job on the planet (job, not life. There are millions of lives harder than mine. But it’s a hard job. I’ve had dozens of jobs in several industries and no jobs harder, when done right, than staying at home to gently and thoughtfully raise a valuable human being.)
Plus, most young parents don’t know enough to know all the “shoulds” of good parenting. It’s easy, when you’re 20, to stick a baby in front of a TV with a plastic toy made in China, and feed it McD*nalds while you check email and talk on the phone. Once you a learn a few things, especially about yourself, having children is soul-wrenching, body-wrenching, and discombobulating.
But at mid-life you appreciate flashes of joy more. (Is it appropriate to call 35 to 45 midlife? Now that we seem to be calling 70 the new 40, what the heck is midlife? Is my midlife crisis overdue or decades away?) Older moms slow down and watch their babies learn, and marvel at the latter’s brilliance. Older moms are more confident in who they are and are willing to stand up for their parenting choices, whatever they are. At mid-life I have more confidence that what I’ve built in my life will be waiting for me, in some form, when babies need less of me. I’m still terrified that I’ve disappeared, eroded by several years of complete intellectual isolation, but I have enough experience to know that, realistically, my resume just needs some creative retuning.
But older mamas are tired. And impatient. And more likely to own things that they rue having to put away for 8 years until we get past the oral, breaking, and ball throwing in the house phases.
Yes, I’m glad I waited. Yes, I’m glad I jumped off that bridge. Most of the time. Yes, I had enough cake to make it through the moments when I sacrifice the last piece to the crazy little person who relishes every crumb. Before he wipes them on the wall and the cat.
I say often to Spouse that I hope Peanut goes to college tomorrow because I can’t take another day of this job. I can’t take it. But I can. And unlike most moms who view each milestone with sadness because their babies are going away, I just beam each time he moves a bit further from the direct, visceral link that bound us to each other for at least two years. No, I don’t want him in college, railing to his friends about how lame his parents are quite yet. But with each achievement, he’s closer to that moment. He puts on his own underpants and shoes, he puts on his own pants and hat. He feeds himself, waters himself, and takes himself to the toilet. And I’m closer to being myself, a new self enriched by what I’ve learned both before him and with him*.
*Flailing, sure. Frustrated, sure. Empty shell of the person I used to be, granted. But grateful and richer. Metaphorically. Not because I was older when I had him, but because I’m paying attention.**
**Note that I said I’m paying attention. If one more person tells me to enjoy this time while I have it, I might body slam them. I enjoy what I can, I loathe what I want, and I blog the rest. So back the f– off and keep your regrets to yourself.