Middle age motherhood gives new perspective to life PRIME – May 2013
By Debbie Gardner
Comedian Caroline Rhea and I found an immediate connection as mid-life moms. Rhea had her daughter, Ava, now a precocious 4-year old, when she was 44 years old. My husband and I adopted our son, Evan, when I was 43.
"I think we're having a way better midlife crisis," Rhea joked as we talked about what it was like to become moms in our 40s. "People call me in the middle of a terrible divorce and I say, 'can you call me back, I'm coloring' or 'Can you call me back after Dora [the Explorer]?'"
It doesn't seem that long ago that Evan, who is now hitting his teen years, was the center of my days much the way Ava is now the center of Rhea's. I knew the names of all the Disney programs, and their plots. This time of year meant a walk up the street to see if the forsythia bush in a neighbor's yard had turned yellow yet. Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny regularly visited my home. Small miracles were measured in the form of a successful first day of preschool, a first bicycle ride, a first time playing organized sports – even if his soccer team did look more like a flock of birds chasing after a tidbit than players trying to follow a plan.
It was a time in my life that had very little to do with me, and almost everything to do with Evan and what he needed to grow and learn.
"People have asked me what I've been doing since Ava was born," Rhea admitted. "I've been getting her to school. Every day, and going on play dates.
"I've been in a twirling teacup for quite awhile," she continued.
I wasn't certain if she was referring to her recent visit to California, where she said she and Ava had visited her friend and fellow comedian Kym Whitley, also a mid-life adoptive mother who is raising a son alone, or her own personal motherhood experience.
I suspected she was referring to being a midlife working mom, and I completely understood.
Rhea admitted she'd just started touring again, reluctant to leave Ava for too long, and that sometimes she brings her daughter along on tours.
It made me think of the times years back when a very young Evan had come with me to meetings here at The Reminder, sitting quietly on a blanket playing with some soft toy while I met with whomever I needed to see.
I told Rhea that if Ava accompanied her to Springfield, they should really check out the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums just off Chestnut Street, where there are larger-than-life statues of many of Seuss' famous story characters. She excitedly said she thought Ava would "love it."
At one point during the interview Rhea told me that having Ava "so completely opened my eyes and changed my life."
Motherhood does that, I thought, whether it happens unexpectedly as it did for Rhea – who confided her own mother had suggested Rhea's symptoms were the beginning of menopause before the comedian learned she was pregnant – or after a long struggle, as it was for me.
Motherhood, I've learned, makes you powerful for a time when that child is helpless, and more and more powerless as they grow. There's nothing that hurts more than watching you child struggle with something – a motor skill, a social situation, a concept in school – fully aware that you can do nothing to fix the situation. Yet there's also nothing that can make you prouder than watching that same child overcome the obstacle and succeed.
Motherhood – parenthood as you fathers know so well – is the toughest job you've never trained for. It's rewarding one day, frustrating the next, and always, always humbling. After we became parents, my husband said in passing that it was like "being let in to a club you didn't know existed."
The membership dues are certainly high, but the benefits – I hope – will last a lifetime.
It's Mother's Day this month – and I expect my son will have some surprise planned.
And as always, I'll tell him that just being himself, and mine, is my best-ever present.