My oldest daughter turned 21 this week. It’s hard to believe, in large part because it confirms something I’ve suspected for awhile, dammit – I’m aging too.
It seems like it was forever and a day ago that I celebrated my own 21st birthday – not that I remember very much of it. When I was in college we celebrated by doing the “Miracle Mile” – so named because it would be a miracle if you were still standing by the end of it. It was basically a mile of bar hopping down the town’s main drag, where at each stop, your frenemies would invariably buy you the establishment’s stiffest cocktail. I certainly hope my daughter’s evening was a little less…shall we say…vomity?
As a mom I know about the various rites of passage – your first kiss, getting your driver’s license, senior prom, graduating from high school or college, buying your first home – and how each one is transformative in some way. But for some reason there are other milestones in nearly everyone’s life that are just as profound but don’t get nearly the same fanfare. For example…
The first time you overdraw your bank account. This was actually much easier to do back when I was in my twenties, because people actually paid for things with checks, and you had to balance your checkbook to know what your balance was. Fortunately for me, it was also much cheaper – a $10 overdraft fee versus the $35 it is now. It was also around that time that this Einstein figured out that not paying your credit card bill on time is also quite costly. Banks thrive because of stupid people – don’t be one of them
Realizing you’re the oldest person in the club – I remember feeling a mix of pity and disgust when I was in my twenties and a creepy old guy (and by old I mean 40) would hit on me Then there came a time when I was at a club, looked around and realized the horrifying truth – now Icould be creepy old guy. You never want to be creepy old guy. It’s one thing to go dancing with your partner or girlfriends, but trying to hook up with much younger folks by going to clubs smells like desperation with a faint hint of George Clooney.
Getting fired – if you’ve never been fired from a job before, you should try it. It usually turns out to be a good thing. It’s better to be forced to move along then spending years toiling away at something you suck at. I was fired from a Hallmark store when I was in college. The owner told me I was terrible at wrapping gifts. It was true. I was terrible at it. We offered complimentary gift wrapping but believe me, in my incapable hands, what devolved from some paper, scotch tape and ribbon was far from complimentary. I remember being upset when he told me “it just isn’t working out” – but fortunately I immediately realized I hated both the job and the owner. I ended up finding a job at a clothing store just a few days later. I was pretty good at pretending I was a fashionista and got a killer employee discount. Low and behold, my ex-boss actually did me a favor.
Buying a practical car. Almost all parents do it eventually. I drove a minivan for years when my kids were little. Now, because I drive so much, I own a Prius. I call this one a milestone because it represented a major shift in my thinking. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I don’t like expensive sports cars – but I’m not a 1 percenter, and I’m not going to make a $600 a month car payment to look cool. I don’t really care what kind of snap judgement a complete stranger might make about me based upon the large chunk of metal I’m encased in when we happen to pass each other going 70 down the freeway.
Writing a thank-you note without your Mom making you. Symbolic because it shows that you finally appreciate the importance of good manners. Thank-you notes are more about placing value on your relationships than it is about placing value on things. Kids – never dismiss good etiquette as pretentious or outdated – that’s just an excuse to be lazy and disrespectful. If you doubt me, just try belching really loud at church and notice the horrified looks you’ll immediately receive. On second thought – please don’t…tell your parents I told you to try this experiment. Suffice it to say, sometimes it’s the small gestures that make the best (or worst) impressions.
No longer caring about getting gifts at Christmas and birthdays. Part of the reason adults no longer send wish lists to Santa is that the idea of having a bearded fat man break into your house while you’re sleeping, then proceed to steal your snacks, trim your tree, and fill your stockings, sounds like something that should be reported immediately to the police department’s perv unit. The other part is that after a certain age, celebrations are not about receiving gifts, they’re about spending quality time with the people you love. I think one of the best gifts I ever received was from the dollar store. I had given my kids a few dollars each to pick out a Christmas gift for me, their dad, and their siblings. My twins were only around 4 at the time, and I had no idea what they would pick out. Obviously, since I was letting them shop at the dollar store, it wasn’t about the particular item – it could have been a bag of plastic bugs for all I cared. I waited by the exit and let them go about their shopping for the first time, sans Mom. When they approached the checkout though, I quickly realized my assistance would be needed. Proud as peacocks, they had picked out the one item in the store that they knew Mommy would love – a bottle of wine. Needless to say, I made a big show of how delicious it was when I choked down a glass on Christmas day, but it was worth it seeing their happy expressions when they gave me that special, special gift. For most of us, there comes a time when you realize that you actually enjoy giving more than you do receiving. Go ahead and feel free to interpret that any way you please.
Your child’s first birthday. Some think it’s the child’s milestone, when in actuality, it’s the parent’s. The one year mark signifies many things to Moms in particular. First, the hope that the next year will mean more than 3 hours of sleep per night. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the sleep deprivation you suffer after having a baby. I remember fantasizing about going away for the weekend, but not to go shopping in San Francisco, or wine tasting in Napa – no, my dream was simply checking into the nearest HoJo’s for 2 days of solid, uninterrupted snoozing. That was my idea of heaven. Secondly, birthday #1 signals the relief most parents feel that they didn’t manage to kill their child in the first year by dropping them, accidentally leaving them strapped into their car seat but still on the roof of your car when you drive off down the road, letting them put something in their mouth that they might choke on, not laying them down for their nap in the proper position, not breastfeeding them correctly, or a thousand other things that you are terrified you’ll do wrong. Thankfully, most of us eventually figure it out, if only by trial and error (sorry kids.) Lastly, this birthday is usually about the time a mother begins to feel that her body is no longer merely a host organism, and indeed, she might actually be able to reclaim it and feel like a sexy beast again someday.
Of course we all know that there are plenty of other milestones in life – some big, some small. My advice to my daughter would be to take comfort in the relative naivete of youth while you can. Soon enough, all of us eventually have to learn to navigate life on our own, just watch your back and always expect some surprises along the way.