by Mary Becelia
It was a warm autumn day in 1984, a sunny day, and if I was a poetic type I’d probably say that the sun filtered a misty gold through the trees as my dad and I walked among the white-columned fraternity and sorority houses at UVA. I was beginning my sophomore year there, and as I recall it, he was down for Parents’ Weekend. As we strolled along, we caught sight of a few guys tossing a football nearby. Pausing for a moment he gazed at them and then said, almost as if to himself, something along the lines of, “I could hang with those guys…I could keep up with those young bucks, throw a few passes, score a goal or two!”
I glanced sideways at him, trying to hide my astonishment and, yes, embarrassment. “Young bucks”? “Hang with those guys”? “Old man,”
I thought, “are you ever delusional.”
I see things somewhat differently now. My dad was barely 44 that fall day in Charlottesville, and the parent of two teenage girls. I thought he was ancient, nearly doddering but now I realize he was still practically in his prime. Heck, he probably could have taught those fraternity boys a thing or two!
My changed perspective is not only because I am an adult now, not a teenager for whom parents are almost always a source of some sort of humiliation, real or imagined. Specifically, I am nearly 44 in this, the early fall of 2009, and I am the parent of two much younger children (four and seven, to be precise). If I thought my dad was a wizened old codger when I was 18 and he 44, how will my children see me when they are in their teens and I am in my fifties-my late fifties, at that? I shudder, quite frankly, at the thought.
My daughter was born when I was 36, my son when I was 39. An interval of spousal negotiation regarding when to start a family, followed by an unexpected battle with infertility pushed my child bearing off course by a few years, and made me the “older mother” that I am today.
Of course there are some plusses to being a mature parent. As I’ve read in many a parenting magazine and book: the increased life experience and perspective, financial stability, maturity and so on. Note I’ve not listed “patience.” I’ve read many a quote from an older mom or dad who exclaims in print, “And of course, I am So – Much – More – Patient now with little Emmy’s shenanigans than I would have been, back in my 20’s!” Personally, I wonder if I might not have more patience if I had some of that limitless energy and ability to survive on five hours of sleep a night, that I had back in my 20’s…!
In the short run, my older-mom friends (there are a good number of us graying parents of tots and toddlers around, I’ve noticed) and I don’t really feel too decrepit; and having young kids plus some well applied highlights helps us to forget that in an alternate reality we might actually be grandparents by now. It is when I think toward the future and wonder what sort of shape I’ll be when my kids are in college that I pause and feel…well a bit regretful that I didn’t get the ball rolling somewhat sooner.
And when I stop to calculate my odds of being in any sort of shape to enjoy grandchildren, should Katherine or Robert produce any…I feel somewhat wistful. I see how my parents, still fit and energetic as they approach their seventies (and still not doddering or ancient) are able to delight in their grandchildren and I can only hope that my kids reverse the generational equation and reproduce while in their 20’s so that I have a shot of being an active grandma myself.
That is…assuming my husband and I are around at all by that point. We both come from long-lived stock, so the odds would seem to be in our favor, but at the same time, we’ve both had the first inklings of health issues this year, and few things worry a parent more than realizing that they might not be around until their children are grown and independent.
But there is no sense dwelling too much on grim possibilities, on this, another sunlit autumn day, and that’s one more good thing about having young children. They keep you too busy for much brooding. I’ll keep taking my vitamins, continue going to the gym, hit the salon to have those highlights applied four times a year and hope, and strive, to still be keeping up with my two fantastic kids for a good many years yet…and hopefully with those grandchildren who may come, someday down the road.
Mary Becelia muses from her home in Stafford County…when she’s not working part-time as a career counselor or caring for her two lively children, Katherine and Robert.