Okay, just to be clear, that exhortation is to me, not my daughters. They are both amazing young women capable of holding a great deal of complexity in their lives, and putting up with their clumsy, goofy, and occasionally over-anxious mother. Case in point:
First, my oldest daughter graduated from middle school this week, leaving me both proud and astounded that she could be so mature, poised, and accomplished. She’s well-spoken, confident, and has great style – which is nothing like me at that age. Her friends are similarly confident, polite, and articulate. How cool is that? It’s so cool that I’m having mild panic attacks about having somehow blinked and missed some vast part of childhood in which we might have made scrapbooks together, or decorated furniture or made lamps from found objects in our garage. Instead, while I’m anxiously awaiting the next episode of my favorite USA Network summer shows (What will happen with Divya’s parents? Will Dani and Matt break up because of the kid thing?), she’s discussing the philosophical implications of Dante’s Inferno, and lamenting the fact that her class didn’t finish A Tale of Two Cities in time to read Steinbeck.
Second, my younger daughter redecorated her bedroom. Aha! Time for me to do all that crafty mommy-daughter stuff that I mentioned above, right? WRONG. Her delightful decor that used to include puppies and kittens in teacups along with butterflies and a really beautiful print of The Scream has been taken down and replaced with posters of pop stars, most notably Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and the adorable boys from One Direction. And I was banned from the room while the redecorating took place. The fact that she is funnier, cooler, taller, and wiser than me does not in the least diminish my surprise at realizing that I am no longer the mum of a girl who has puppies and kittens on the walls. Sheesh – how’d this all happen so fast?
I find myself in that bizarre masochistic mommy situation of feeling very proud of how grown up and mature my daughters are, while also feeling that they should still be stuck in some infantilized girl world. I mean, what am I really afraid of? That they will rush into romantic relationships before they’re ready? That they will begin to dress inappropriately and start smoking while waiting for the bus? That they will become snide, sarcastic critics of everything and everyone? (That role has already been taken by ME, thank you very much.) That they will stop talking to me? Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has indicated that they are on the road to doing any of these things. They are both just really cool people, who are interested and interesting, and who I enjoy spending time with.
So what I have realized, and the reason why I started this blog, is that as a woman living in America, I have yet to embrace and feel comfortable with the idea that I am a grown ass woman with good ideas and an independent life to live. The anxieties I have about my daughters are really symptoms of my own anxieties of whether or not my own life has had worth, value, and meaning. As a young woman coming of age in the 70s and 80s, I grew up being told that I “could have a family AND a career!” Well duh. Unfortunately, I am part of a generation of women who made that choice on the cusp of cultural change that still makes us wonder if we did the right thing, no matter what we chose. And now we have daughters who have grown up in an entirely different context, who we may struggle to understand and support.
So – I will follow my own advice to “grow up already!” While I really admire the young women that my daughters are becoming, I know that they will make choices that I don’t understand or that make me cringe. I hope I will be mature enough to let them be themselves. I am reminded of Pete Townshend’s comments when The Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In describing the rise of rap and hip hop, he said, “it’s not up to us to try to understand it. It’s not even up to us to buy it. We just have to get the f*** out of the way.”
*Those of you who know me know that the idea of me scrapbooking or doing anything with found objects is about as likely as me cheering for Notre Dame or the Yankees.