Having a child at the age of 43 was difficult at first. After the initial relief that she was born healthy, I struggled to settle into the caring-for-an-infant stage. I had done this all before, more than a decade earlier. Since then, as my older children became engaged in school and activities, I had filled my time with meaningful pursuits. I had a challenging job I enjoyed; I was involved in volunteerism; I had discovered the benefits of fitness and meditation; and I was “out-and-about” in the community.
A new baby, especially a premature one born at the beginning of cold and flu season, needed to be kept cloistered in a safe and nurturing environment. The only place she would be going was carpooling for her siblings when absolutely necessary. Those months seemed long, being tucked away at home, isolated from the world I had created for myself.
But spring came and, with it, a new phase. She became a chubby, gleeful toddler who loved to be around people. As each year passes, my delight at having the privilege to raise her has only compounded.
At 50, I am certainly the oldest first-grade mom at her school. She has classmates with grandmothers my age. I can’t check her homework or co-read a story without my bifocals, and she may be the only kid in her class who knows what a hot flash is. But none of that bothers me at all.
I remember when I was parenting little ones in my 30s. Fully immersed in diapers, board books and Disney movies, the joy of parenting was sometimes overtaken by boredom and frustration. I vented to my mother about typical occurrences such as diaper malfunctions, temper tantrums and sleepless nights.
“Blink and you may miss it,” she would say, “They grow up too fast.” When I was perseverating over a particularly whiney day, or about how tired I was of picking up their toys, she would tell me not to “sweat the small stuff.”
The good news is, now I get that. I’ve been there. I know that, just when you think you can’t handle a difficult phase another minute, it ends. I’ve watched my older children grow from wild preschoolers to incredible young women before my eyes. I realize this child will only need me so much for a very short period of time, and then she will be off, becoming who she was meant to be.
So I revel in it. I drink it in. I bask in the glow of her curiosity and her awe at the world around her. It is so much fun to be her parent.
As she grew, I didn’t take things as seriously. When she scribbled on the wall or tracked mud in from the playground, it didn’t matter. I laughed and cleaned it up. I didn’t make her sit and learn her letters and her numbers; I figured preschool would take care of that. I didn’t sign her up for every music, art, dance or sports program she became old enough for. I was too busy attending to my teenagers’ schedules to worry about setting up play dates. Her socialization happened on the sidelines of her sisters’ games, at their orchestra concerts and in the waiting room at the dance studio.
The structure was looser. She went to bed late and slept in, just like her big sisters. She acted silly and entertained the teenagers who came over for study sessions and sleepovers. She learned to be quiet when they had homework to do. Her sisters adore her as if they are mini-parents, and she relishes their love and attention. How many first-graders get to go to a high school varsity football game and have the players call her out by name from the field?
Now that she is in grade school, we all get to witness her discovery of so many interesting topics. She comes home bursting with knowledge and concepts, and we’re all eager to share our thoughts and feelings on them. During this long stretch of weather-related delays and cancellations, her inquisitive nature kept us all entertained. Rather than wanting to watch yet another animated movie, she asked if we could find something related to what she was learning in school. On snow days, we all enjoyed movies including “Jane” about Jane Goodall, “The Miracle Worker” about Helen Keller, “Our Friend Martin” about Martin Luther King Jr. and “42” about Jackie Robinson.
I’ve read studies that say that older moms live longer and have higher energy. They maintain better cognition and memory later in life. All of that may be true, but even if it doesn’t pan out that way, the joy of raising this child is its own reward.