I'll be 39 in a couple of days. Birthdays don't bother me the way they seem to bother so many people. Age hasn't really ever been something I've been afraid of, though I would make an argument that it probably has at least a little bit to do with the fact that I've almost always been the youngest person in my circle.
I skipped a grade in elementary school, which meant that for a few years I was picked on a bit for being younger. I didn't get to drive the same time that most people did, I couldn't sign my own paperwork when I went to college for a while, was by far the last one to reach legal drinking age.
Those things were annoying, sure, but they were transient. Once I'd passed all the ages that we actually looked forward to turning, being young suddenly turned from a disadvantage into a distinct advantage. On top of that, we had kids way earlier than most of our friends did, so the new people we met because of the kids were all just a bit older.
We won't bother mentioning the fact that I lost any claim to being the young mom now that I have a small herd of children spanning a decade and a half, that I've now converted myself from the young inexperienced mom with a baby to the old veteran mom with a baby.
Anyhow, I was thinking about turning 40 a few days ago and I was thinking about it not so much in terms of myself as much as I was thinking about it in terms of my parents and my children. Where they were at that point in their lives. Where I am. How very different, and yet how similar those places are.
When my Dad turned 40, I was 15 years old.
My oldest child will be 15 when I turn 40.
On my father's 40th birthday, I'd already met the teenage boy who would eventually become my husband.
My son is happily single for the moment, though a lot could change in a year. (breathes into paper bag)
At 15, I'd been in and out of therapy already. I'd started and quit smoking, drank myself into oblivion more times than I could count, partied enough to compare to any college student and then some.
Unless something dramatic happens between now and then, I highly doubt my son will have done any of those things. He watched his grandfather die because of smoking. Watched his grandmother die in part because of smoking. Watched the front yard go up in flames (literally) because of smoking. I don't see him ever considering it.
By that point, my parents' marriage had survived more than a few major conflicts...but those conflicts and the way my parents dealt with them left me hanging out on a limb most of the time...hence the partying and the drinking and the general bad choice making at 14. I need to forgive myself more than I've been able for what happened in that phase of my life. I needed parents and rules and structure and boundaries and I didn't get any of that. Left to my own devices, I did some really stupid shit.
My marriage....let's just say, yeah. Major conflicts. Been there, done that, but (and this is a big but), I swore to myself that I was never going to let whatever was going on between us affect that kids the way I was affected. I haven't checked out on anyone, haven't left my kids hanging, haven't turned a blind eye because I had my own shit to deal with, haven't just dropped them off wherever because it was easier. I'm in it, with my eyes wide open, vigilant. On purpose.
By the time my parents turned 40, there had been a few midlife crises.
We've already been down that road a few times here too, went to the gift shop, got the t-shirt.
It's weird, because I knew back when I was 15 that my parents hadn't figured it out yet, but they wanted me desperately to believe that they had. At the same time, they seemed so old and weathered, so authoritative, so experienced with the world.
From this side now, I know that I haven't figured it all out, but I've learned a lot along the way. I never pretend to have mastered any of this life stuff, least of all with my children. When I screw up, I say I'm sorry. I admit when I am wrong, I own it.
I talk more to them. Tune in more. I don't push them away because of the demons I wrestle in my head. I don't because I know what it did to me when I was in their shoes and my parents were in mine.
I've been honest with them about what life was like for me when I was their age.
And I've learned.
We aren't destined to make the same mistakes our parents made. Our kids aren't destined to make the same mistakes we did, either.
My kids are way more stable, more grounded than I could have imagined being at 15.
Maybe I've figured out this life stuff more than I give myself credit for. Maybe.
Maybe I'm over analyzing it all.
I probably am.
It is, after all, what I do.
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