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Time Passages

As 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.

On the other hand, she’s an adult now. She’ll just have to deal with it.

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 daughters’ childhoods.

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 wear them.)

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 old.

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.


—Jo Page

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