On Monday, I reached a major life milestone: a Big Birthday, one that ends in “0.” But not mine. My daughter’s. And that makes it ever so much bigger.
My baby is turning 30! My youngest! How can this be!
Cognitive dissonance rattles my brain. I’m certain she was 12 just a couple weeks ago, and newborn only days before that. It’s odd how at midlife, something that occurred 30 years ago simultaneously feels like an eon ago and five minutes ago.
My baby turning an age I specifically remember turning myself makes my brain all twisty. My own 30th birthday stands out to me. It was the heart of my own personal Dark Ages, psychologically at rock bottom, unemployed, and taking my second run at divorce (third time’s a charm, but that took another 10 years). I commemorated that day alone. No cheesy party. I simply colored that day black on the calendar. And that was that.
It wasn’t that I’d succumbed to all that ridiculous “over the hill” nonsense. With the psychological baggage I was already packing around, turning 30 was the least of my worries. I turned 30, life was no different than it was the day before, and no different the day after: I’ve made a horrible, irrevocable mistake (marriage), I’m stuck, and I will never escape. That said, fast forward one more decade, and I proved myself wrong.
Oh… you mean… all I have to do is get out? Like a catchy Paul Simon song, and slip out the back, Jack, hop on a bus, Gus, and get myself free? You mean… the only one holding the keys to the cage is… me?
At 40, I discovered courage. But not at 30.
So, I look back and compare 30-year-old me to 30-year-old Janine and I’m nearly stunned by the difference. She surpasses me on every level. I was psychologically shackled by fear and anxiety all the time, and nothing terrified me more than parenting. I felt as if I’d been given two precious diamonds and had no idea what to do with them or how to protect them, other than to perpetually scan the horizon for every potential danger.
At 30, every decision I made was from a fear base: “If I do this, what potential disasters might occur?” Potential positive outcomes? Not in my mental wheelhouse at 30… as opposed to my daughter, who is pure courage and determination. A true Capricorn. Stubborn as the day is long, and unafraid to climb any mountain. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Maybe I served as the “fashion don’t” of how to deal with fear.
Janine is willing to take chances, to go out on a limb and grab the fruit. At 30, I’d more likely just sit under the tree and hope something fell into my lap by luck. Trouble is, even if it did, it was usually rotten by that time. You can’t go out on a limb if you’re afraid to climb the tree.
I’d like to pat myself on the back and say that my outstanding parenting played a key role in Janine becoming the amazing woman she is, but I’d be lying through my teeth. She is who she is not because of me, but in spite of me.
I was a helicopter parent of the worst sort — hovering every minute and doing a desperate third-base dive to catch my kids before they fell. I skinned my knees a lot. So did they, because sometimes, I dove too late. “Trying” is not the same thing as “succeeding.”
If only we’d had the internet in those days… Google or Young Mothers Facebook pages. But no. There was nothing. It was a parenting wasteland, particularly for those of us who grew up in turmoil, without a template for normal family life and normal parenting. There were books. That’s about it.
Worse yet, something shifted between the ‘60s and the ‘80s. In the ‘60s, we rode bikes without helmets, skated without kneepads, and car seats? Hell, cars didn’t even have seatbelts. And yet, it didn’t seem unsafe. But in the ‘80s? An entire cottage industry was born to warn us that everything on earth is hazardous to our children.
Having done a lifelong dance with anxiety, I soaked the “Danger, Will Robinson!” message right up and set out to protect my children from every harm, real or imagined. (And I have quite an active imagination.) And of course, I failed, but not for lack of trying. Sometimes your heart’s in the right place, even as you are falling short.
As my kids got older, they began to resent my overprotectiveness and anxiety. But Janine, being a braver person than me, eventually told me to knock it off, because my anxiety was giving her anxiety. What irony! In my quest to protect them from harm, it was me that did the harming. And so, I had to learn to “zip it” — to learn that every dread fear that rumbles through my head does not need to come out my mouth. Best of all, because she is a much finer person than me, Janine forgives me for my fear-based shortcomings. How ironic. She’s turning 30, but I’m the one getting the gift: forgiveness.
I feel so fortunate witnessing my daughter’s 30th birthday. My own mother didn’t. I feel fortunate to know this brilliant, determined, talented, witty young woman who survived growing up with a nutty mom who would’ve put her in a full-body bubble-wrap jumpsuit every morning before letting her walk out the door if she could’ve gotten away with it.
(Truth be told, I still would if I could. But I’m learning not to say these things out loud.)
Happy 30th birthday, my darling daughter. I’ve made my mistakes over the years, but one thing is certain: It’s not humanly possible to love you any more than I do. Thank you for being my daughter… my own heart.