Elihu became a teenager last week. We are roughly forty years apart in age – until I catch up with him tomorrow, on the seventh of May. Although there may be nothing particularly notable about turning 53, I can say that it does feel different to me. It feels as if 52 has been the year in which I transitioned into my 50s in earnest, and in some way, turning 53 feels kinda like I’m sealing the deal.
This has been the year in which I absolutely needed reading glasses, the year in which my knuckles doubled in size, the year in which my knee required a cortisone shot. This is also the year in which my neck officially ‘dropped’ – and, if you’ll please just believe me on this – my left earlobe acquired an actual wrinkle (earlobes actually wrinkle? Who knew?). Seriously, this is the kind of stuff that happens to other people, right? And teenagers – isn’t it just older people who are parents to those strange-looking, over-sized children?? I still feel as if I’m mother to a tender young child, and not mother of a young man who needs me – and cares about what I think – less and less each passing day. Middle school – let alone High School – has until now seemed a foreign, far-off world that I would likely never see again. And now, look. Here we are.
It’s not that I’m not excited by my son’s growing up. Honestly, I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead – but something deep and unnamed has been gnawing at me the over past few weeks, and I’ve been trying to clearly identify it. Yesterday, as I entered a meditative state brought on by folding an unending pile of clothes – it hit me. I finally put my finger on it. And somehow, although Elihu had agreed – and even enthusiastically so – to have me read to him from the Burgess Bird Book for Children last night (our Springtime tradition), I could tell that somehow it wasn’t as it had always been. Something unnameable was different. And now I was able to put words to it: My child was no longer spellbound by me. Yes, that was it. Until now, I’d offered him wisdom, understanding, perspective, even a sense of magic about the world…. But now, although he might still desire those things from me, everything I had to offer now was somehow more practical, less magical than it once was… It might have something to do with the fact that this year I bought him a rather substantial birthday present with which we needed some serious technical support. No longer could we dance around the ‘hows’ of his birthday gifts (in his tiny years it was “the Birthday Angel” who delivered them – in later years we simply never talked about it), but now we had to offer order numbers, purchase costs and other magic-squashing data. And in the process, an era had quietly come to a close.
A phrase that has danced about my consciousness for the past few years is “the bloom is off the rose”. The very saddest words in the whole world, to my ears, are “gone by”. Each Spring I await the magical, short-lived window in which the Lily of the Valley (my very favorite flower) come to bloom and full fragrance. When the mysterious small white bells begin to turn brown, my heart breaks in a tiny – but very real way. And then, I remember the annual mantra of the all-too-brief growing season: “the flowers have gone by“. And so I have come to observe a similar phenomenon of my fellow humans. With increasing concern I begin to understand the outward physical manifestations of the change of season of my peers – and those just ahead of me in the great mortal line. We ourselves are slowly ‘going by’.
There was a time when I wasn’t quite sure how to distinguish between decades – for a great portion of my life anyone over 40 was just plain in another world. They were fundamentally different from me. But now, existing on the other side of that subtle line, I find that I know what it is to be both them and me, and it is a slightly frustrating place in which to live. Personally, I have never truly “grown up” – and children seem to recognize this. I find that I may enjoy a bit more street cred with people decades younger than me than my own peers because of this, but still…. It is ultimately no consolation. I have reached the age at which kids will see a photograph of me from years ago and remark “No way… Is that really you?”. I can remember reacting the very same way when older friends had shown me pictures of their younger selves. I never gave a thought to their personal, inner reactions. Honestly, me, I don’t mind. But maybe, as I think or it, in some tiny way, maybe I actually do…
A lot of things are changing now. And many for the good. I cannot ever say that I will entirely make peace with crepey thigh skin or a sagging neckline, but I suppose I’ve had my time. And I certainly enjoyed it. And the time which I am entering into now would simply never have been possible all those years ago. So I suppose it really is true that things happen as they’re able; everything in its time and place.
Tomorrow morning, on my 53rd birthday, my father’s Steinway baby grand piano will be moved from mom’s house to The Studio. This is the biggest birthday gift of all. I’m sure that my dad is smiling on our progress, and very happy to know that the piano will live again. Tomorrow night we host our first community jam session, too. Elihu is employed as house bass player, I will fill in as needed on piano or drums. The piano won’t be in tune, and it is still a bit of a mystery as to how things will all turn out at the end of it all, but no matter what, we are underway. And this, in its own way, is a good way to mark the passage of time. My father’s era may have ended, and it still breaks my heart to even say so; but thankfully we have a whole new adventure to look forward to.
Happy birthday to us all!