With Mother's Day upon us, it feels like an appropriate time to celebrate being an older parent.
Truth is, I don't even have a clue what that means. I'm older than whom? Every other mother in the class? (Well, someone has to be, right?) I'm older than what? Your grandmother, your dog in human years, the tree in your front yard? (I don't know; maybe I should go count my rings -- that would be my tummy rolls, right?)
Yep, I'm 63 and am mother to a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. Since the wheels in your head are already spinning madly to do the math -- let me make it easy and just say that I chose to build my family through adoption and both my kids were almost school-aged when I brought them home from China.
I don't assume that my path is the right course for everyone, nor do I especially care what anyone thinks of it. But here's why I know that being an older parent is a pretty cool thing:
1. I don't compete with my kids, as some younger moms do.
My daughter and I don't dress alike. We both dress for comfort over fashion, but you won't catch me in a pair of three-inch shorts or her in tight-bodice dress. And for the record, older moms don't shop in Forever 21 not because the clothes wouldn't fit us but because the in-store music is played at ear-splitting volume. Seriously, can't they lower it just a little so my teeth don't rattle?
2. I know that the best-tasting mac and cheese comes from Kraft.
Sure it's disgusting to think what it's probably made from, but honestly, is there any greater comfort food? Yes, most of the time I make my kids mac and cheese from scratch with four cheeses perfectly blended and a crispy crust on top. But guess which one they like more. Go ahead: Show me an under-40 mom who will admit serving it to her kids.
3. I recognize gluten-free for what it is.
At 63, I have seen diets and food fads come and go. I have been a vegetarian, a vegan, and for one memorable month, suffered through something called the grapefruit diet. I have blanked on the details; yes, it was that awful. Foods fall in and out of favor and too many people embrace them with Messianic zeal. A few years ago, I was snack mom at a soccer game and passing out Krispy Kreme donuts (yes, I both know my audience and play to the crowd) when one younger mom stopped her little guy from taking one. She pushed a gluten-free bar of something resembling cardboard in his little fist and in that loud preachy third-person voice young mothers sometimes use said "Here Max, let's eat healthy today so we can grow big and strong." Max, my friend, trust me -- your mom will outgrow this phase and you will be fine. In the meantime, come for a playdate and we'll grab some mac and cheese from the blue box.
4. Kale really only tastes good with a lot of salt, and then, what's the point?
I apologize for picking on kale. It's a lovely vegetable. But just like Swiss Chard, it needs to be covered in something to drown its natural taste. My kids eat a ton of vegetables. They don't eat kale. And here's what being an older Mom has taught me: They will survive this transgression.
5. I'm OK with dirt.
I am OK with beach sand in the house. I don't ask anyone to take their shoes off to protect my hardwood floors. I don't even go apeshit when the dog has the occasional accident on the good rug, mostly because I don't have things like good rugs. Dirt is a big part of a happy childhood. Kids, as a rule, would prefer not to live pristine lives. Older moms know not to buy their sons white shirts and then get upset when they get dirty on the first wearing.
6. I can be blunt with my kids.
This may be a derivative of that uncensored thing old ladies do -- you know, where they just come out and tell you things like that lipstick shade you are wearing is all wrong or your skirt is too short.
I am bluntest about the idea that effort matters as much as some younger moms think it does. I know effort is something that is only rewarded in childhood and to survive as adults, my kids must succeed -- not just try hard. Yes, this is the old "everyone gets a trophy" complaint. Childhood needs to prepare kids for adulthood. The best jobs go to the best qualified people, not the people who try their best but fail.
7. I know that life can be more fun if we just let it.
My perspective is that school is serious, homework must be done, and my expectation is that my kids bring home good grades. I love A's. I also know that a life without spontaneity is flat and dull. That's why my kids would occasionally play hooky from summer school to go to the beach with me, and it's why we shake them awake at 3 a.m. to come watch the meteor shower. Older doesn't mean more rigid; it means you know a sleepy kid may not learn at 100 percent but occasionally you let them stay up late anyway.
8. My kids are well-behaved because I would have no tolerance for them to be otherwise.
Other moms regularly compliment my children's manners. My kids know how to behave around adults and have no expectations that they will always be the center of all attention. They are polite, clean their plates, and know not to talk with their mouths full of food. We are still working on interrupting.
They are this way for one reason: I couldn't stand it if they weren't. Chalk it up to older parents can get cranky. Right from the start, my husband and I took them out to fancy restaurants and taught them how to behave. They don't bring iPads or phone to any meal table and nobody answers texts if we are doing something as a family.
9. I am living proof of how to age well.
My kids see me exercise and see how I watch what I eat. They see me take time alone with my girlfriends and go hiking. They watch my husband and me dance on the deck under the full moon. They see co-parenting, a full-time working mother, and a family culture that believes in volunteerism, charity to those with less, and kindness to all. They see us visit sick friends in the hospital and bring over cooked meals to shut-ins. They see us live full active lives in which they are at the center. What they don't see is time stolen from them or their needs and core child-raising responsibilities handed off to paid help or teachers. We are there, fully.
I have a career, but I am old enough to not feel especially ambitious about it. I love what I do, but not as much as I love my children. By not becoming a parent until I was older, I burned through all those work desires.