Part of me wanted to run and hide from the fact that I just celebrated my 50th birthday. I had a feeling my friends and high school classmates might make that hard. We’ve all been turning the big 5-0 this year, and everybody has been posting photos from their milestone celebrations. It’s not exactly a secret.
Of course, most of my high school classmates have kids who just graduated from high school or college. I have three sons in preschool. It was a lot easier to hide what an outlier I am as a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 4-year-old when I could mumble something about being “in my 40s.” But Fifty?! Yikes.
I had my first son at age 45. My second and third at 47. This day was rapidly approaching from the start. The chance to become a mom at such an advanced age was going to trump any pangs I might feel when some elementary school PTA parent found out I was in my 50s. By the time I got to my 60s, I figured I’d find a way to laugh off questions about watching my grandsons play high school sports.
Not until my actual 50th birthday though, did I let down my guard long enough to admit what bothers me a lot more than what any other parent might think. What matters most is what my boys will think. When they’re old enough to understand what it means to have older parents, will they feel cheated?
Being a mom has brought a new sense of urgency to all of my doctor’s appointments and different meaning to every birthday. It’s introduced me to new fears. But for that, I’m realizing, I’m no outlier.
The day after my birthday, a good mom friend of mine called to see how the celebration was. Once we moved on to other topics, she told me about a conversation she’d had recently with her husband. She told me about fears she has about what will happen if she’s not able to take care of her two children. This mom is 39. It dawned on me. All moms have that fear.
One of my favorite children’s books is called “Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You.” The first time I read it, I felt like Nancy Tillman had written it just for me. It’s a love story to your child, a promise that your love will always be there.
“In the green of the grass….in the smell of the sea….in the clouds floating by…..at the top of a tree….in the sound crickets make at the end of the day….’You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,’ they all say.”
It’s something a mother could have written about sending her son off to war…or her 10-year-old daughter to spend-the-night camp…or after getting a cancer diagnosis.
I choked up the first time I read it to my son Wade as a newborn and pretty much every time since. I’m long past being able to blame hormones for the tears. But the book is still both therapeutic and a little painful to read, so when the twins came along, I didn’t read it very often.
The night of my 50th birthday, though, I decided to pull it out. I’d already read Johnny and Wes their usual bedtime story, when I saw “Wherever You Are” sitting on the shelf. But something told me to pull it out and read it anyway, even after they were already in their cribs. It felt like a fitting way to end a really special day.
Wade heard me reading it from the next room and appeared in the doorway. He asked if I would read it to him too when I came to tuck him in bed. I had already promised Johnny he could keep the book in his crib for the night, and an attempt to broker a trade for another book didn’t work. So, when I got to Wade’s room, I told him I’d read it to him tomorrow.
It would have been so great, in that moment, if I’d had the book memorized. I went for a one-liner instead.
“My love will find you…” I said.
“Wherever you are,” he said, joining in.
From the time Wade had woken up that day and about every 20-30 minutes after, he told me he loved me and wished me a happy birthday. He showered me with hugs and smiles and presented me drawings he’d made to surprise me. He pointed out the number “5s” he’d written, forgetting all about the “0’s” my mom had coached him to include too.
On this day, the zeros didn’t matter much to me either.
“It’s been said that, once we become parents, we wear our hearts outside of ourselves,” Nancy Tillman writes about the poem Wherever You Are on her website. “Our love really does follow our children wherever they go. In Wherever You Are, love takes shape and does just that. It is my wish that this book helps give your children a sense of confidence that there is nowhere in the world your love can’t find them.”
I hope it’ll give my children that confidence too. I know on a big birthday; it didn’t hurt to give me some too.