When a friend said to me the other day “the next four years are going to fly by.” He said that one day you’re dropping them off at high school and the next day they’re gone. I can’t pretend that I’m prepared for this. We measure our time by our children growing up. We don’t notice each other getting older, particularly, because once you hit 30 it is all basically shades of the same person. But a kid grows up. They turn into a teenager. And they become adults. Out in the world. You know, actual human beings with drivers licenses and taxes they have to pay. The basics just to survive. And then you get into the whole other complicated layers of happiness. Love, marriage maybe, careers, money, acceptance, fulfillment – and then the other part of life – when you feel dissatisfied and unhappy and how that manifests itself. It’s called a mid-life crisis but it really is is that moment when you stare down the barrel of the gun: this is my life. This is what my life is going to be until the day I die.
So we went from 13 to death in twenty seconds flat. We measure time by our children growing up. My daughter was just the best thing that ever happened to me. No other life experience, no relationship, no job has ever matched the importance of raising her. And being her mom has been the BEST thing in my life. The rest of it feels like stitched up skin made to look like a normal person. The stuffs that went into making me seemed to have been collected from junkyards and the backlots of movie studios, trunks full of old costumes – a junk drawer that maybe amounts to something and maybe doesn’t. You dig through it and you find useful things. But you also dig through it and feel the urge to clean it up. But the mom thing – it has been the only wave of reality for me. I knew what I was made to do when she was born: take care of her. Make sure she was fed, well rested, educated, entertained, clean — and I made sure she was read to, every morning, noon and night. I can’t take credit for her love of reading now, though I’d like to. She seems to have just grown into it. Okay, so I’ll take credit for it (I don’t deserve it).
For the first part of her life, as a single parent, my life pretty much revolved around her naps. I was a working film critic at that time (ha) and I had to take her with me to those screenings so she’s been going to the movies with me since she was around six months old, timed to her nap. I remember when she was old enough to actually sit up and watch a movie — she was four. Of course, she only went with me to the movies until she was around two and then she was too big to sleep on me. I’d still occasionally take her. It was all about the nap. And the breast. And the food.
Little by little they let go of things that tie you to their needs. We women, most of us, really just want to feel needed, or need to feel needed. First they start walking. Then goes the breast. Or the bottle. Then they lose baby food and move to solid food. Then they are potty trained. My daughter co-slept with me, shocking to our culture I know, but that was the next big thing to go – when she started sleeping alone. The next big step was school. A whole day away. Wow. In preschool there was the nap. My daughter hated the nap. It was a huge deal, this nap, because the school was required to make them nap for almost two hours during the day – and by then kids have pretty much given up that long nap so they’re up all night. Kindergarten was a new step – a teacher, papers, homework, reading — I remember bragging to her kindergarten, “She can already read.” And the teacher looked at me like “so what, lady. This is Santa Monica. You don’t think all of these parents already have their kids reading?”
So then parents deal with “the lunch.” If the kid isn’t eating it at school you have to make it for them. When they’re that young they don’t really eat a lot. And they certainly don’t if you’re not there to show them how. You think you’re never going to conquer the lunch thing. But somehow it works itself out. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade – they’re still kids. Fifth grade hits and suddenly they begin to “develop.” And you see that there really are little men and women trapped in there waiting to burst forth. That is extraordinary to watch. Your little kid is suddenly growing into an actual person. She is still my little girl. And she’s 13.
This isn’t to say that people who choose not to have kids are missing out. I’m sure that they have great things in their lives that make up for it. For me, though, without her I’m nothing.
She had her birthday this week. And yes, these four years are going to fly by. We measure time…we measure time…
I hope for her that she sees much of this great big world. That she learns to think for herself. That she meets wonderful men (or women). I hope that she continues to feel the muse kicking at the barn door – playing her ukulele, cello and piano. Singing her heart out. Seeing her own beauty as she takes pictures sometimes of her face. I hope she sees the best this life has to offer and that she doesn’t become the little wind-up toy that keeps running into the same wall. There are no guarantees, of course. As another writer friend was fond of saying, “life is a bucket of shit with the handles on the inside.”
Kids at 13 still believe in dreams. “I want to go to college in San Diego, a community college to be by the beach and then I want to finish my education at the University of Hawaii because they have the best beaches in the world, ” said my 14 year-old niece. My first impulse was to tell her not to judge a college by how close it was to the beach and then I remembered: she’s 14. This is a dream worth having. A vibrant hopeful moment where your own life can be made out of your own dumb irrational choices. Too many of us try too hard to live correctly. We all end up in the same place anyway, don’t we? The basics – family, old age, death and dying, comfort. If we’re lucky we get to be in love for a while. If we’re really lucky we get to have our loves with us when we die. If we’re lucky. But it is a happy birthday even if it does mean one step closer to the end. She has her whole beautiful life ahead of her. And in some ways, so do I.
Happy Birthday, Emma.
- Growing Up
- So Hold Me, Mom
- When Kids Get Ahold of the Macbook
- Navigating the Treacherous Waters of Sex Ed in Middle School
- Seventh Grade
- Empty Nest Syndrome
- 12th Birthday
- Cannes Leaves Me Homesick
- What I love, What I fear