There are things that a parent should absolutely should avoid at all costs: searching symptoms on WebMD, taking strategic selfies in your bikini top (seriously, you are someone’s mom), and unearthing any intel regarding how long your child has left in your home (see also: the ever-popular “we only have eighteen summers” rhetoric).
I turned thirty-five this summer. And my ten year old daughter has approximately 400 weeks left until her high school graduation. I realize that I have contributed solely to my own undoing, that this summer, this year, was supposed to make sense. I remember when I was growing up that I would always proclaim, “People will finally take me serious when I turn thirty”. It’s pretty hard to take someone serious that still considers Pop-Tarts a viable breakfast option for adults. So now here we are, halfway to forty, Yes, when I was twenty five, I once said I was halfway to thirty. And I believed it. The joke stuck, and now, alas, I am halfway to forty. And no wonder people still do not take me seriously.
The summer that I turned thirty five, I got pink eye (twice), poison ivy from our goat, and my middle child threw up in the backseat of my car. My youngest, at the heels of my lengthy stint as a stay at home mom, told me that I now work so much that he “feels like he doesn’t even have a mom”. Despite the fact that I am home pretty much the same time every afternoon, and pray with them on the way to school in the mornings, and we are currently reading our way through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone together. But yeah. Worst mom ever.
I came home from work one day in the fall with a ton on my mind, and zoned out on the couch, slowly and methodically eating a Babybel cheese and a small bowl of salsa, and totally blanked when my daughter asked for help with her math homework. Frustrated, she loosely said something to the effect of, “How can you just sit there and eat cheese and can’t even handle fifth grade math?” to which I posted her quote on Twitter, because she was right: here I was, practically middle aged, and my level of stress could only be cured by my daily intake of dairy. Later, we had our first “posting things about your kids” discussion at the supper table: how could I post something like that about her on Twitter (I was confused: I was making fun of myself?) because it could “ruin her reputation at school”. We’ve had the internet since she was born and I have shared stories on my personal website since she was a one year old baby. I’ve always shared stories about my kids online. Yet, she has no personal social media presence, only the one that I share from my own platforms. But in this fragile age, ten and thirty-five, her pictures and quotes are now carefully curated by her own thoughts and motives. She now reads what I write that involves her words. She read this article before I shared it with you. Instead of her mother telling her story, she is now taking the pen to paper and molding it herself.
I woke up out of a dead sleep one morning in the fall of my thirty-fifth year, as I am accustomed to doing. I used to be a champion sleeper, and when I was little I used to proudly declare that I could “sleep through a cow’s moo” (impressive, I know). But this morning, not unlike most, I could not return to slumber with the impending thought process of all the things I needed to do the next day coupled with “did I hurt that one girl’s feelings in the seventh grade”? Should I ask her? (Probably not). But on that particular morning I heard water running somewhere in our house. Carefully tiptoeing down the narrow hallway to the laundry room, my silent feet were overcome with an icy cold blanket of water, pooled at the intersection of laundry and hall. Water was flowing out of our washing machine at a steady rate, the temperature of such so painfully frigid it took my breath away. Wading through the ruined laundry, I desperately reached over to shut off the water and stop the flow from the source. We had purchased that washer and dryer about nine months into our marriage, making the set around thirteen years old. Our mattress was the same age. Nothing says being an adult like buying major appliances, several at once, and planning on packing your lunch for work for the next three years. And you are staring at your future self when you make statements like, “If this washer and dryer make it thirteen years like the first set, we will be empty nesters at that point”.
In the winter of my thirty-fifth year, I sat with my dad one night on the couch in my parents’ den, watching the news and staring at the small tree in the center of the room, placed between two built in bookshelves of their home that was a former parsonage. We used to get a real tree every single year growing up, and decorated it with those huge, oversized bulb lights that are a total fire hazard and laced in lead, and “icicles”, which are thin, silver shavings of some sort of failed experiment at Y12, I am fairly certain. Now my parents are in the “practical” stage of life, where things are less about tradition and more about things that make sense, like pre-lit trees that do not have to be watered. I am looking forward to this level of contentment.
I started telling him all the ways I was failing as an adult, things that make me crazy stressed (poor time management, people that park their cars in the drop off lane at the elementary school, and this whirlwind of life called parenting), and he looked at me with concern and said the following:
“When you put your kids to bed tonight, just know that there’s another mother a few streets down doing the same thing, and another across town, and another. All the mothers are tired, their kids are cranky at night, and again in the morning, and it’s exhausting. You may think they are perfect mothers, but they are not. It’s hard. Just know you are not alone”.
You and I not alone. I still have crumbs on the floor (always) and a sticky kitchen table (how?), but we are growing up together, middle school and middle age ahead. Since my fifth grade math skills are limited, I am still fairly certain that thirty five is halfway to forty, and we are doing the best that we can.