Mama Madison: Growing up as a mom

What young mothers have to learn from, well, women who've been at it for a while

We met more neighbors the first two hours living in our new Madison home than we had the whole time we lived in Chicago. Everyone came by to check out the moving van, say hello, and offer advice on parks, pre-schools and nearby restaurants. I especially remember my first encounter with the delightful woman from across the street. She was friendly and funny and came bearing brownies--totally my style. But I doubted we'd ever really strike up a much of a friendship. She was, how can I say it delicately, older.

Not older like Senior Center older, but more a "senior" mom with a high school daughter, and fifth and second grade sons. Her kids rode bikes, spoke in full sentences, and were toilet trained. I had just one child at the time, an 11-month-old, and couldn't see much beyond Good Night Gorilla and the Diaper Genie . Her life just seemed so foreign: a world away across the street.

I write this post almost 13 years later, on the eve of my 45th birthday. In some ways I certainly am worse for the wear. Fine lines and wrinkles really aren't that fine; all I want for my birthday is some obscenely high-priced face cream that likely won't deliver on its promise. And I am pretty sure I can no longer pass off my ever-increasing grey hairs as very "blonde" highlights.

But my advancing age has bought me one, somewhat unexpected, surprise. I love being an older mom"or at least the mom of older kids. The 11-month-old is now 14; my husband and I don't need babysitters anymore. We are free to be spontaneous"ducking out for a quick bite or a last minute movie just because we feel like it.

And this year I took that same 14 year old and a couple of his buddies out to Graze to celebrate his birthday. We talked about philosophy and politics. I don't recall that ever happening at Chuck E Cheese.

All three of my kids shower on their own, use the microwave and sleep soundly through the night. In some ways I feel younger"or at least better rested and better dressed. I still wear stained clothes, but at least the stains aren't spit-up anymore.

Parenting was so physical when they were little. It was a good day if no one bled, had a major meltdown in the grocery store or bit a pre-school classmate. It was a great day if any one took a nap, especially me. I can best summarize those as the hands-on years. Now I am working on the art of "hands-off" parenting"letting them make decisions, mistakes and dinner. It's a mental game.

Yes, I still have times when I catch a whiff of Johnson's Baby Powder passing by and I well up unexpectedly. It makes me just a bit melancholy to realize I will never again go to a kindergarten orientation. And all three of my children are now too heavy for me to carry up to bed. But I wouldn't go back for the world.

My next-door neighbors just put their house on the market. This past Sunday a young couple pulled up to the open house to take a look. I couldn't help but notice their infant son, fussing and bored, strapped in the back seat. I rushed up to greet (maybe scare) them, offering advice on parks, pre-schools and nearby restaurants. I probably should have mentioned that the best is yet to come.

And that older mom across the street, now an empty nester? We are great friends. Maybe I (they) just needed to grow up a little.

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