Two years ago, I turned forty years old. That milestone birthday caused me to reflect on where the first half (give or take, I hope) of my life had brought me. What might still await me as my forties and beyond stretch out before me? Was I ever going to publish my first novel? Why couldn’t I eat nachos and milkshakes at 11pm without consequences like I did at late-night dining during college twenty years ago? After being single for the last half of my thirties, would I get married again someday? When did the songs I loved in high school become acceptable for rotation on the classic rock station?
I also thought about what it meant to be a parent in her forties. My children are currently in the fifth grade and second grade. And while I haven’t been mistaken for being a grandparent, I’m far from the youngest parent among their classmates. I’ve got a full ten or twelve years on some of them! How does the fact that I was born in 1975 affect my experiences with parenting some four decades later?
More and More People are Younger Than I Am
Teacher burnout is real. More than fifty percent of teachers do not stay in the profession for more than five years. So, there are a lot of young teachers in our classrooms. I was once one of them.
I taught high school for several years in my twenties. Getting stopped for my hall pass became a regular occurrence. I was once shoved against a locker by a student who did not (I hope) realize I was a teacher. In fact, I was even asked to prom (and promptly declined the invitation). Sometimes I wonder what the parents of those teenagers thought of me. Did they have trouble taking me seriously? Did they feel I did not have the experience needed to pass or fail their son or daughter?
Fast forward to a couple of years ago. My daughter was in third grade. She came home on September 11 and told me what their class learned about that awful day in American history. She also said, “My teacher said she was ten years old when it happened, and she was really scared.” Huh? Ten years old? How was that possible?
That moment really struck me, in a similar way to the day I realized that every player on my favorite NFL team was younger than me and how I imagine I will feel the first time my president is younger than me. As each year passes, more of the people in my family’s world are younger than I am—my kids’ doctor, many of their teachers, our neighbors. I have come to the conclusion that, yes, young teachers with little experience are often awesome. I shouldn’t have been so insecure when I was in that position. Also, I find that I’m not defining young and old and what that means in the same way that I did just ten years ago.
My Kids Don’t Get My References
One recent Saturday morning, my kids asked if I could bring salt and pepper to the table for their eggs. As I placed the shakers down, I yelled, “Salt, salt, salt, salt and pepa’s here!” And they just stared at me. When the way I stole second base during one of our many games in the street upset my son, I reminded him, “There’s no crying in baseball!” My infusion of quotes from Diff’rent Strokes and Silver Spoons and Family Ties . . . all lost on them. With no spouse around, I have no one to high five me for a well-placed hat tip to Ferris Bueller.
Yes, I am sure this happens to every parent. Those who are several years younger than me probably get blank stares from their kids when they quote Backstreet Boys lyrics. But when I talk to my kids, it just feels like my days of participating in a couples skate to “All Cried Out” by Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam happened three hundred years ago.
Gravitas and Gray Hair
At times in the bathroom at my office, I take a couple of moments to admire the gray hair around my temples. With my blond hair, they can be hard to spot. And I think I’m in the minority of women who actually WANTS to see those gray hairs! I love the gravitas they give me. That gray hair? I earned it through seven years of single parenting and several more years of practically single parenting before that. It grew with sleepless nights and scared tears and perseverance.
I also like that my son runs his fingers over the loosening skin and the wrinkles that are starting to develop on my hands. Looking at these hands that have held my babies and rubbed their backs and held them tight after a tough day at school, I’m reminded of the hands of my grandmothers. I always thought their veins and wrinkles were so beautiful. I believed they captured wisdom and decades of care taking. Hopefully, my hands look more and more like theirs as the years go on.
Conversations with My Growing Kids
When I was growing up and pictured myself as a mom in the future, I never saw myself with babies. Instead, I always daydreamed of being a mom to older kids. I thought about how we would play ball and work on science fair projects and discuss current events. I enjoyed my children as babies and I certainly have friends who adore that stage, but I’m even more in love with where we are now.
Being a mom in your forties probably means that, like me, you get to have conversations with your kids about what they see in the news. You get to help them navigate their own sense of justice and kindness. You have extended talks about theology and science and history. I LOVE all of that. Every year I enjoy it more. I find it fun and inspiring to be along for the ride as they develop who they are as individuals and to look ahead and see the fantastic (bias noted) adults they will be in the near future.
Have you found that your outlook on parenting has changed as both you and your kids get older? If you are a fellow mom in her forties, how have you found the journey so far?