Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lucky Mother

I read an article in The Atlantic recently called I Refuse to be a Grown-up that described one woman's refusal to be a grown-up-stick-in-the-mud. She equates a liberal, exciting, fun, youthful life with a life unencumbered by the attachments that drag a person into the mire of adulthood, namely marriage and parenting.

I totally get where she's coming from. I used to feel the same way. I vowed I'd never get married and have kids because I didn't want to grow up. Vast stretches of my twenties were spent daydreaming about trips that I never took, adventures that I never had, novels that I never wrote. I was completely free and unfettered, and yet I never did anything with that freedom. 

Conversely, Austin Leon, author of Steal Like an Artist, wrote a post on his blog about how having a child affected his creativity. He writes about a mother who tells him (before his son is born) that he clearly didn't have children because, presumably, people with children don't have the time or energy to be creative. After his child is born, he has to make adjustments, but he vows never to use his child as an excuse to fail at "The Thing" that he needed to do.

I like that.

I'm 38. Just turned 38 yesterday. I'm glad I'm 38. I don't have a single regret about it. It's just a number after all. I don't feel like I'm a different person than I was at 28, even though I know I am. I'm not less fun. In fact, I personally think I'm way more fun than I was then. True, I don't spend every night dancing on tables in bars (and I didn't spend every night dancing on tables in my twenties, thank you very much), but in retrospect, dancing on tables is only fun the first ten times you do it. After that, it just becomes blasé.

I'm 38 and I have one of those pesky little things called a kid (dozens of them if you count my students), but I'm hardly a grown up by any conventional standards, and it's actually age and the kid(s) that have slowed my descent into the stereotypical drudgery of adulthood. I'm able to sing Christmas songs in July loudly in crowded parking lots now without having had a drop of eggnog, and it's because of my kid. What better way to embarrass him? I can spend hours playing video games or watching cartoons, and I can discuss the relative merits of Ben 10 over Generator X with any fourth grader. I start dinner with ice cream and breakfast with cake (not every time), and the perfect meal is still hot dogs and mac n cheese. I wear skirts that look like tutus to my job, and I have the approval of third graders to credit for that.

I'm sure there are parents who got gray hairs over their kids, who gave up on childhood dreams to care for their kids, and I'm sure that there are old people who still look young and dance on tables because they didn't have kids. I needed the kid though. The kid was my howling, spastic, ever-chattering muse. 

I didn't finish a novel until I had my son, and I started and finished it in a month of naps when he was just over a year old. I didn't start making art again until he was old enough to tell me he wanted a pirate ship, and then that experience of making one out of old cardboard boxes and a legless Barbie doll reminded me of how amazing it is to create something just for the fun of it. I've been on more road trips and had more dumb but interesting ideas since I had him. In fact, it's the very thing that some people equate with aging - the responsibility of raising a child - that has really freed me from the whole aging process. I get to be a kid again with him.

Never in my life have I felt younger than I do now. Not that sort of young that I felt in my teens and twenties when I had to be more cynical and apathetic and stubborn than everyone around me, but the kind of young that I see in my kids, able to enjoy things that don't cost money or give me a hang over, able to imagine adventures and then make them happen, able to have silly, un-self-conscious fun.