I always thought the term “middle-aged” meant you were half way through your chronologic life. As I turn forty-seven, being middle-aged has come to mean something very different to me.
At this point in my life, I am instead in the middle of my fading role as mother and my developing role as daughter. Ten years ago, I would have been able to describe the details of my roles as a mother to my children and as a daughter to my mom very clearly with specific details.
In one persona, I was clearly the one who was responsible for others and in the other, I was looking to be cared for unconditionally. This age in the middle that I am experiencing now is more about floating somewhere between being a mother to my grown children and a grown child to my mother.
As my children, my mother and I age, the roles are shifting. At first it was subtle, but as I approach my fifty-year mark, I see that what used to be two very different ends of a spectrum are now closing into this middle space that is not as definable.
As my children become adults, I am getting to know them in a way that was not possible before. It is like I am letting go of the little hand that I have been holding tightly on to, keeping them close and safe, for so many years.
As I reluctantly let go, I am able to see them, in a way, as if I am seeing them for the first time.
As they step away from my grasp, and we can see each other face-to-face, I can see who they really are. Not the image of what they meant to me as children, but the culmination of experiences both realized and yet to be experienced. They no longer act purely on what is expected of them by their parents, but they are taking those steps away from me and moving toward the people they are meant to be.
It reminds me of when my oldest daughter, at age five, was having trouble falling asleep on her own, so I gave her a string to hold on to that ran from her room to mine. We both held tightly onto the string, and when she was afraid, she tugged. I would tug back letting her know that everything was okay, and I was right there. After many nights of reaffirming tugs, one night, there was no tug. Now it was I that wanted to tug at the string so that I would get a loving tug back letting me know she was okay, but I resisted the urge, knowing that I needed to let her go. Eventually we both fell asleep, on our own.
In my role as daughter, I see a similar shift happening. I grew up believing my mom was capable of anything. She knew how to organize any situation with grace and ease, and I always felt safest by her side. In a way, when you are a child, you are in love with the image of your mother more than anything.
She is the iconic figure who seemingly has no imperfections, never makes mistakes and is the grand protector. Now in this middle space in my life, it is I that feels like I am looking at my mom for the first time, eye-to-eye. I am seeing my mom in a way that is even better than this fantasy image as I get to know her as a unique person and as a friend.
The distance between our experiences has closed, as we both know about being married, raising kids, and moving through life. Now the moments that I have with my mom are not based on our roles but are spontaneous and real—shared treasures.
I have many beautiful memories of my mom as I was growing up: gathering the autumn leaves and bits of crayons to iron between waxed paper, creating dresses for the clothes pin dolls we made, making my UNICEF Halloween costume out of a cardboard box. And I have many more in my early adult life—discovering what would be my $100 vintage wedding dress on a trip to New Hope, preparing the room for my babies, crying on her shoulder when parenting got challenging.
But the moments I am having now with my mom are the sweetest.
Moving to this middle space as mother and daughter has let us see each other—really see each other—on a different plane. The memories I am gathering in this middle-age are of us going to a show together and laughing uncontrollably, walking with pride in the 50th anniversary march on Washington together, talking about kitchen design ideas, sharing our stories with each other.
As a mother you cannot imagine letting go of the little hand that fits so perfectly into yours, but when the moment comes, you somehow know when to let go. This is where I am with my children and where my mother was one day many years ago with me. As I am connecting with my mom in this middle space, however, it is like I am gently sliding my hand back into hers.
For my mom.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Holly Horne/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Sagar Mahapatra, pixoto