my daughter takes great pains to remind me, not everything
is always about me. So she probably won’t be pleased to discover
how much her twenty-first birthday is.
the other hand, she’s an adult now. She’ll just have to deal
Because though it’s a big deal that she’s turning 21, it’s
staggering to me that I will be the mother of a 21-year old.
For one thing, I’m way too young. I’m, like, 30.
And for another thing, if Madeleine is turning 21, then
it is conceivable that in ten years—or maybe fewer—I could
be a grandmother.
(A grandmother? Can’t we find another word for it?
And I don’t mean any of those grandmother-y monikers: Grandma,
Gram, Gamma, Grammy, Nana, Nanny, etc. To quote—unfortunately—Jim
Croce, I’ve got a name, although it’s probably not right to
have my grandkids call me Ms. Page. . . .)
But the real reason Madeleine’s twenty-first birthday is staggering
to me is that I haven’t had nearly enough of either of my
I mean—I can do the math: I know that Madeleine is old enough
to be turning 21. But I just can’t seem to detach her from
her childhood. After all, I was there when she first coasted
out into the world angrily waving her legs and arms like a
giant purple spider.
Here we go, I thought then. And so we have.
I was there for all of it—her Christmases and Halloweens,
her first steps, her vaccinations, parent conferences, award
ceremonies, clarinet concerts.
I was there at fifth-grade graduation when she walked across
the Cabot Elementary School stage wearing shorts, braids and
black socks. (She still holds it against me that I let her
I was there when she walked across Proctors stage to get her
high school diploma. But the fact that she was truly growing
up was so unreal to me I didn’t even shed a tear. Somehow,
in my mind, the real Madeleine was still just a kid
with a pet rock named Elvis and a stuffed dog named Max.
Only—things change. Now the real Madeleine is a woman with
a car named Ziggy and a boyfriend named Max.
A few years ago she told me that she thought people had to
work a lot harder to enjoy their lives as adults than they
did when they were kids. Kids had fun and no responsibilities,
she pointed out. Kids had toys and no car payments. True,
I was thinking, but adults get to have sex and have children.
Adults get to drink wine and buy houses. There are compensations
for having left our childhoods behind.
But it is bittersweet to imagine Madeleine experiencing those
compensations, finding pleasure in adulthood, in spite of
the onerous and increasing responsibilities that come with
being all grown-up. It isn’t that I don’t want her to be an
adult woman—I do. But all I long for is a kind of panoptic
ability to see her once again at age six or 14 or 18-months
I feel the same way about her younger sister—wishing I could
time-travel through her life, re-experiencing what passed
too quickly. Sometimes it seems I was on auto-pilot as they
moved through their childhoods, never quite bookmarking quite
enough of it in my brain.
I hope they enjoyed their childhoods as much as I have. But
I remember myself at the ages my daughters are and I know
I was hell-bent on growing up and getting out. I left for
school at 17, wanting to leave it all behind—childhood, my
mother, our small town, New York, anything that seemed an
obstacle to adulthood.
I wanted my own life, my own dishes, my own apartment, my
own car, my own career, my own marriage, my own family.
And now, having already had all of these, the question that
looms large in my life is what next?
No doubt Madeleine recognizes she faces the same looming question
in her life. She will graduate, move away or not, stay with
her boyfriend or not, get married or not, have children or
not, travel or not, own a home or not—the whole architecture
of her adulthood lies ahead of her. And I hope she embraces
the project of constructing her life with as much curiosity,
joy and peace as she can muster.
But if Madeleine has left her childhood behind, then my loving
job of raising her must be pretty much over. I am leaving
her childhood behind, too. And what curiosity, joy and peace
can I muster as the mother of a twenty-one-year old woman
who doesn’t need me in the same way as she used to? What plans
and dreams remain for me?
On June 30th I think I’ll open up that bottle of White Star
and raise a glass to Madeleine. And—though I know that not
everything is always about me—I’ll raise a glass to me, too.