We had my son, Eddie, late in life, when I was 47 and my husband was 51. I remember wondering in those early years how we would fare as parents, given that we were older. I feared people would think we were my son's grandparents. What's happened instead is that I'll see grandparents my age with a child and mistakenly assume they're the parents.
Even my son used to get confused. When he was one, I took him to the beach, and as he sat on the sand, watching a man in a floppy hat approach us, his face lit up. He thought it was his father. It was actually our neighbor, Paul, a retired cardiologist who is 70.
"He's a small child. His vision isn't fully formed," I told my husband, Bruce. "He probably sees like insects do, like you're looking through a kaleidoscope."
There are practical issues with our age. For instance, my eyesight is deteriorating. Everything's become an approximation. My eyeliner looks bolder because I'm no longer able to follow the contour of my lid so I keep drawing and redrawing the line, making it thicker and thicker with every stroke. I can't see my toe nails so I dab polish on them like I'm stencil painting, coating the entire top of the toe because I know over time, the shower water will take off the excess. In restaurants, if I forget my reading glasses, I'm left to order general food categories. "I'll have fish." Or "I'd like the chicken please." Subtleties about how it's cooked are lost.
It's not just my sight, however. It's my strength. And it wasn't that I couldn't lift my baby son. It was that afterward, I couldn't lift my arms.
When I was pregnant I had watched a woman push a baby in a carriage in the subway station, and when she reached a set of stairs, she lifted the carriage up in the air and ascended the steps easily, as if she were holding a carton of eggs or a couple of towels. I was walking behind her, carrying only a newspaper, and by the time I reached the top of the stairs, I was winded. I thought, this baby business is a younger woman's game. I could never understand how women carried their baby in a basket (that piece you would clip into the stroller) on their arm, like a purse. I had to use to both hands to heave it out of the stroller, like a kettle bell.
During my pregnancy, I visited a friend who had two children and I accompanied her when she picked them up at their elementary school. The boy was young and sweet, but the girl looked at me suspiciously, almost with contempt. I thought she was wondering why someone as old as me would be pregnant.
"Do I look old to you?" I asked. "Go on. Tell me. If you saw me picking up one of your friends at school, would you think, casually, 'Oh, there's so-and-so's mother,' or would you think, 'That can't be so-and-so's mother. She's so old!' "
I don't remember what she said because I don't think I really asked her. Given how preoccupied I was about being an older mum, I know I wanted to.
New York magazine once did a cover story on how an increasing number of people are having children in their fifties. The cover photo was a profile of a naked pregnant woman - a la Demi Moore's Vanity Fair naked and pregnant cover - but her face was that of a 60-something woman.
The article, "Parents of a Certain Age" raised people's ire, but I think it was the photo that incited them to post 266 nasty comments on the magazine's website. I knew I shouldn't read them, that they would only make me feel bad as an older mother, but I was like that young priest in the movie, "The Exorcist," who is warned not to listen to the devil who would try to speak to him through the young girl who was possessed, but he couldn't help himself. He listened as the devil spoke to him in his mother's voice and asked him why he'd left her to die. I poured through the comments on the magazine's web page and read as they called older parents "selfish!" and said things such as "Menopause is for a reason!"
One commenter, writing under the pseudonym, Madworld, said, "What could be more selfish than having a child when you will knowingly leave the child/children prematurely parentless or worse, unnecessarily burdened with having to care for your old, selfish ass?"
I posted a comment of my own, saying, "I had a child at 47. I don't think I was selfish to do that. My child may be sad when his parents die earlier than those of his friends, and that's something that pains me, but hopefully all the love and caring and nurturing he gets before that point will make up for it." Five people gave my comment a "Thumbs Up," perhaps because they, too, had a child when they were older or knew someone who did.
What I didn't say in my comment - but have thought about - was that my father died when he was just 62, leaving me fatherless at 38. He missed my wedding. He never met my son. It broke my heart. But he had his children young. It's all a crap shoot.
In some ways, Eddie is lucky to have older parents. With age comes a maturity, a centeredness, a sense of perspective and well-being that younger parents may not have. At least in theory. We also wanted him so badly, having gone without him for so long, the way someone stranded on a desert island might appreciate his first meal back home, that it's hard to imagine he could be more loved.
He will also benefit from the fact that my husband and I grew up at a time when the world seemed more innocent, a safer place, when people played kickball at the bus stop and you could trick or treat without an escort, when music had sweeter words, getting into college was not something a child prepared for starting in middle school (and when plastic bags at the grocery store weren't so thin they ripped right through when you stuck an ear of corn inside). There was a sense of realness, a presence, an innocence, in the world when we grew up that made us less worried or determined or directed.
My son eats breakfast to Cat Stevens and Leonard Cohen and dinner to Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Young. He learned to dance to Santana, with me bouncing his dirty little feet on the butcher block table that I did not rub with an antimicrobial liquid afterward, and when he was upset, we put on Marlo Thomas's CD "Free to Be . . . You and Me," and it calmed him. He now plays pinball and Pong at a local vintage video arcade, and hopefully, I'll convince him to play me in "Asteroids.," a space-themed video game from the 1970s that they have at our local arcade.
I wrote an article the other day on how children as young as 8 are increasingly attempting suicide and how some experts blame it on the bullying and alienation that occur on social media.
My son, now 8, won't have those high-tech social issues because he's not getting an iPad or a phone until he's 30. My husband and I decided that early on, particularly after seeing a couple in a diner with a young boy, who sat glued to his iPad wearing headphones the entire meal. We thought, Why have a child?
When my son was small, I would sometimes sit on the kitchen floor with him and telephone him on a gourd I'd plucked out of a bowl full of squash and potatoes that sat on my counter.
"Ding-a-ling-a-ling," I'd say, holding the S-shaped gourd to my ear. "Hello? You want to speak to Edwin Joseph? Why he's right here." And while he'd never seen an old-style landline, he'd hold his head to the earpiece with great anticipation, for a voice that had requested his presence. It was the first of many cultural references that would exist only inside our home.
As I sat at my computer this morning, I thought about a mum who recently told me she was helping her son move into a new apartment while he attends graduate school. I then did what I always do: advanced maternal age calculus. If I'm 55 now and my son is 8, when he's in graduate school, I'll be nearly 70. I envision myself helping my son unpack his clothes in his new dorm room, and I think, "Geez, if I'm afraid people think I'm my son's grandmother now, they'll most assuredly think it then."
Just then my son, still in his pajamas, lies down on the couch next to me, and waiting for me to cover him with a blanket says, "Mummy, can you tuck me in?" And all thoughts of age and distinction dissipate.