Someone asked me my age recently (how could they?) and I told them I was forty. The word still doesn't roll off my tongue well, and I still wince when I say it. In my mind I'm still stuck somewhere around age 25, or maybe 26, at the oldest. Sometimes I'll have flashes of my nine-year old self, too, or me at sixteen. I'm sure, twenty years down the road, I'll think about forty-year old me and wonder how I was ever bothered about being that age--forty will seem so much younger, of course, than sixty.
A few weeks ago I took the kids to our local children's museum. I sat by myself and people-watched while the kids ran around. There was a mom's group there--young moms, and they were talking about new mom things: nursing and bottle-feeding and diapering and night waking. They leaned on each other--literally and figuratively, passing their babies to the next to hold, sharing their tentative wisdom and their fears. I listened with a pang of envy--not for the diapering and the night waking and, no, not really even for the nursing, but for the company they had. I would have given anything that first and second year of L.'s life if I'd had a support group like that--women I could have talked to, face-to-face, about all those millions of things I was uncertain about. Because the big secret out there is, of course, that everyone else is uncertain about them too. We new moms sometimes put on happy, capable faces when inside we're crumbling and scared, and feel so alone but we have to pretend we're not--because we're mothers, after all.
But I also realized, as I sat there, that I wasn't one of those young, new moms anymore. I had moved into another group: the group made up of moms-to-older-kids. I remember being a new mom and looking at those older, more seasoned moms, who had their gangly, toothless elementary school kids racing around them, and marveling that I could ever be there one day. I imagined what it would be like to be an older mom. Surely I would be wiser, more patient, and I'd have it all figured out. All that careful attachment parenting we'd done in those crucial formative years of our children's lives would have paid off.
It's funny to me that I once saw the trials and tribulations of parenting as being so defined by my children's ages, or that I thought the challenges would end as they grew older, or that I thought I'd somehow have all the answers by age forty. When I look back at the breast feeding angst and the ceaseless night-waking, and the terrible two's and even more terrible three's, and potty training, it all seems so much more manageable now compared to the subtler challenges of parenting older children. I'm richer now, too, having met over the years so many capable and brave and interesting mothers, and my network is large and supportive. I'm glad those young mothers at the museum have each other, and I'm still a little sad I didn't have them back when I was a new mom; but I'm glad for who I do have now because, I think, this older mom needs them more now than I did then.