Life Notes: Family Portrait
Still becoming me, only now with three new guides
By Sally Friedman

It’s the new year. A time for reflection, for looking back, looking forward. And I find myself realizing that if somebody asked me to pinpoint the precise moment when I began learning about life from my daughters, I probably couldn’t do it.

But I can tell you with certainty that something quite unsettling has been going on in this definitely, unquestionably, mature stage of my life. I find myself turning again and again to Jill, Amy and Nancy for insight and ideas, and yes, advice.

I still attempt casualness when it happens, as if I’m simply “grazing” around their collective wisdom. “So what would you do if so-and-so happens?” I may attempt, listening more keenly than I like to admit for their responses. Far more so than I listened to college lectures on Elizabethan poetry.

I know so much less about some of the very things about which they know so much. It’s humbling – and wonderful, too.

I admit that I find myself borrowing from my daughters’ enormous stashes of self-confidence. They have it to spare. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have to deal with a world owned and run by men, the one their mother’s generation, and so many generations before mine, encountered. Maybe that’s why they’re not constantly nervous, apologetic or uncertain…traits I know all too well. They have deftly avoided bowing to the twin gods of caution and conformity – again, old pals of mine.

They roar at photos of me in prim flared skirts and blouses with Peter-Pan collars. They cannot believe that marriage at 21 was almost etched in stone for my generation of women. And yes, I made that deadline.

I was one of the lucky ones. I married a man who is still by my side and who encourages me to ditch the boundaries of my mid-20th-century history, just like his daughters urge me to do. Those daughters have taught me, without ever preaching, that life is an adventure, that even a woman who came of age in the 1950s can learn the exhilaration of a fit body and an expanded mind, and yes, it is possible to fit three weeks’ worth of clothes into an overnight case.

They’ve taught me to try tofu, subscribe to at least one politically correct magazine and at least to experiment with the wonders of a vegetarian diet, although I’m yet to join them in that. I stand in unabashed awe of Jill, Amy and Nancy’s strong sense of themselves and wonder whether it’s generational – this one got it, mine did not.

My daughters have taught me that women friends are to be cherished because they give unconditional love and support, and because when I feel like an imposter as a writer, wife, mother and human being, my women friends will convince me I’m not.

From these three strong, sure young women, I have learned to occasionally brush off my misgivings and wear something slightly outrageous, which is why I own a wild purple sequined shawl that I have worn once.

I also have found joy and comfort in a book group composed of women who share my past culture, and through one another’s insights we have learned together that life and the world have changed, and we can do more than we may have thought. In so many instances, their own children have also led them.

Even as I still sometimes struggle with my own ghosts of the past – even in my tangle with my old images and possibilities – it’s so reassuring to let Jill, Amy and Nancy help me to relocate myself. To change my mindset and wake me up. So when I feel myself being brave or plucky or spunky, I hear my daughters’ voices in my head. Each time I re-think my old ideas about where a woman’s place is, I think of their incredible forays into that big world out there.

In the endless push-pull of my daughters/myself, I admit I’m still struggling to give birth to myself. The delicious surprise is that my own daughters are such gloriously gifted midwives.

January 2019
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