Life Notes: When Daughters Turn 50
Continuing to parent as the years move on

Fifty was my best decade. I finally knew who I was.

But what’s really weird is that two of my daughters have now reached their 50s, of course long before it seemed remotely possible. In each instance, there was celebrating with lots of food, poems and parodies – we’re a clan that loves parties. But that’s not what comes rushing back to me every time I’m asked how old my kids are. And yes, “kids” goes on forever.

No, when I think of being the mother of two 50-somethings and one trailing only slightly behind, I think of motherhood past. Of the bumpy road to this decade not for them, but for me.

Who knew that motherhood would be a glorious exercise in humility? Who could ever have guessed that it would challenge, taunt, make me aware of how vulnerable I was because of that title and how blessed I was to claim it.

So many contradictions. So much rampant confusion about the confluence of love and fear.

The nurses at the hospital knew how to swaddle a baby in a blanket. I didn’t. Other moms around me seemed to understand instinctively how much was too much strained peas. I often misjudged.

Decades later, I have not forgotten the trembling at a firstborn’s first fever and making deals with God that if the fever broke, I’d never ask for anything again. And always the awe that this tiny creature’s very life depended on her father and me, even though we both made multiple mistakes.

Every first left me questioning and sometimes weeping. Walking a baby with colic or an earache as I did for many long nights with each of our babies could easily reduce me to exhausted sobs. But I was a mommy, and I had to keep on walking, keep on bouncing or keep on rocking the tiny screamer of the moment on her nursery rocking chair.

I earnestly believe that no one, no matter how wise, how professionally trained, how emotionally brilliant, can convince a daughter who is in agonizing doubt that she is really worthy and wonderful and beautiful…at age 12. I know I couldn’t – not even the third time around.

Nobody ever told me that I would have to soothe not just bloody knees, but broken little souls because of “mean girls.” Losing the student council election – and your best friend – is an initiation into the world of raw pain during  that elusive process called coming of age.

But somehow, I got through those teenage years with my girls when what I really wanted to do on some days was run away and join the circus, because the one at home was just too chaotic. I even got through the heartbreak of the boyfriend who had found another, the dream college rejection, the job richly deserved but not won because life isn’t always fair.

Along with their dad, I got the Friedman daughters through their odysseys to Israel, their early career years and then marriages that brought them joy, fulfillment and yes, children of their own.

They were feisty in their 20s, exploring the work-life balance in their 30s and putting it all together in their 40s. One still is. But 50? What can I possibly teach them now? Well, I’m finding out.

While they don’t stand up in their cribs and reach out tiny arms to me, while they no longer seek my advice about how to decorate their dining rooms or what’s a perfect hostess gift for a host with terrible taste, they still light up my life with their wit, their wisdom and even their advice. These days, the wisdom flows upstream, from them to me.

But for me, 50s or not, motherhood is an ongoing, glorious definition of who I am. And a really amazing life sentence, with no time off for good behavior can remember exactly how it felt to turn 50. Empowering, yes. And important. Possibly tinged with a slight case of arrogance.

May 2014
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