Friday, October 28, 2011

Making Friends with Mrs. Darling

"All children, except one, grow up."  
--J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Here is a picture of one of my favorite, most serene moments from our 2011 beach vacation:

Watching my husband and children play on the beach, I felt total peace and contentment.  A verse from one of my favorite hymns came to mind:
"What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease..."
To know me is to know I am a neurotic wimp with some pretty specific and enduring fear issues, so I won't pretend to put myself forward as some warrior mother or a model of unflappable serenity.  But there are some fears that have been stilled. Some strivings that have, at long last, ceased.
To say I had not looked forward to my forties would be an understatement. I had truly dreaded it, taking as my motto that line from When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan sobs that 40 is "just sitting there, like some big dead end."  
I was convinced life would be all downhill from 40. I would no longer be able to fool myself that I was still young. I would need to mourn the end of the childbearing years with a considerable measure of wailing and gnashing of teeth. And all those aspirations I hadn't quite managed to achieve yet--write a book, lose 20 pounds, take cello lessons, learn how to work my camera--?  Too late: I had missed my chance.
Man, 39 year olds can be so immature!
As I sat on the beach watching my family this summer, I remembered these things. I laughed about some of them and cringed over others.
I thought of how I whined about turning 40, when a family friend struggling with breast cancer was praying to make it to 40.  She died a few weeks after the birthday she had longed for and I had dreaded.
I thought of my younger brother and sisters and how wonderful it is to watch them come into their own, start their own families, and that the age gap between us that always seemed so huge has diminished and become irrelevant.
I thought of how Anthony and I, no longer run down and harried from caring for infants and  chasing toddlers around the house, have the energy again to stay up past 8:45 and the freedom to have actual, uninterrupted conversations again and have even managed a few trips away--just the two of us.
I thought of my daughters and the pleasure of seeing their personalities take shape and the list I keep of funny remarks they make.  I sighed about the little pain I feel when they don't seem to need me as much and the relief when they decide they haven't quite outgrown me yet.  I smiled thinking of the conversations we have, the topics of which have finally expanded beyond snacks and tattling and wants, but about friends, plans, fears, and dreams.
Today is my birthday. I'm 42.

My fears about turning 40 were, of course, totally unfounded, as all my 40 year old friends had told me beforehand.  My life did not end.  

But my perspective about it has changed.

At the end of the summer I read J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.  I wasn't all that interested in reading it, to be honest, but my sister Megan begged me to, as it is one of her favorites. She had suffered through James Baldwin's Another Country at my request and hated every word of it,  so I really did owe her one.  As I read the first paragraph of Peter Pan, my throat tightened painfully and my eyes stung with tears:

"All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, “Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!” This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end."
This is where the focus of my life is, not in wishing I could "remain like this forever," but in wishing my children could! It isn't seeing my life rushing by that makes me wistful, but watching them rushing through theirs.  I don't identify with Peter Pan (though I obviously did at 39!) or even Wendy, who loved to play at being a grown up, but knew full well she was really still a child. 

No, I am happy to be a friend of Mrs. Darling, savoring those prickly-sweet moments of my daughters' childhood adventures. I still have dreams, but they mostly come down to this: Being what they need me to be while they still need me and, however much I put my hand to my heart and try to resist it, helping them grow up until they don't.

My girls took me out to my favorite Thai restaurant for my birthday lunch: My treat! :)


Erin said...

How touching! You got one thing wrong, though: Your girls will ALWAYS need you! They'll just need you in different ways as they get older. xoxoxo

Megan said...

Loved this! So sweet and wonderful. Happy Birthday dear sister!