I remember being cool. I remember knowing which bands were hot, which writer even hotter. I remember having vital, intelligent conversations that weren't work or child related. It's hard to remember that now from the vantage point of middle-aged motherhood, but as I reflect on this transformation I remember distinct signposts of my undeniable ascent into adulthood along the way.
I remember sitting on a cross-town bus in Manhattan, twenty-four years old, dressed in a good navy Tahari suit and carrying a briefcase. I was exhausted from my job at a computer firm, so I sat with my eyes closed imagining my soft and inviting bed. I was jolted to consciousness by a flurry of activity at the front of the bus. A group of young teenage girls was making its way to the back of the bus, swinging from strap to strap in a flurry of perfume and fruit-scented lip gloss.
I watched them as they chattered away, talking about this boy and that band, clicking their gum. As they adjusted their stylish black clothing I was struck by the realization that I used to be them. I looked down at my outfit, and I felt suddenly old and geekish. I wanted to scream, "Hey! I was cool like you once! I threw up just five feet from Billy Idol and I slam danced at Max's Kansas City! My life was all black lipstick and backstage passes!"
That afternoon realization so many years ago was just the beginning of the first stage. Along the way there have been events or days in my adult life where I remembered feeling a sensation of the youthful, vital energy from my youth again, minus the pimples.
Seven years ago I was working on my undergraduate degree with a full time job and a three-year old. I would spend my one-weekend-a-month residency completely intellectually stimulated. After a day of having intense discussions about feminism and modern literature, or icons in mythology I would return home on Saturday evening, exhausted, happy, and vital. Though I was very happy to spend time with my son, it would be very difficult to sit there watching Pokémon without spending the entire episode feeling as if I were going to bash my head on the coffee table to drown out the insipid dialog and bad acting. But this challenge of role and identity switching has been an ongoing and alternating theme in my life, exhausted, happy and vital just as if I were twenty again.
But here, safely in my forties, and buoyed by the wisdom that comes with experience I am glad for the passage of time. Honestly, I wouldn't go back if you paid me. It is hard being a teenager. But it is also hard to drive home listening to the Clash while remembering old times and having to transition to being a soccer mom. Me. If you have told me 23 years ago that I would end up so straight I would have knocked you off your practical and sensible shoes. But truthfully, once you become a parent, you take another ride on the emotional roller coaster all over again, sometimes more than once.
Last year, one of my beloved nephews, Josey, a handsome and intelligent twenty-two-year-old had just been dumped by a young woman he had been seeing for the entire three years of his college life. She was beautiful, exotic, and intelligent, and I felt for him. I heard about this from my sister Ellen as we caught up on our lives one afternoon on the phone.
"I told him she was just one in a long line of relationships he would have and he should just get over it. He's just twenty-two, for God's sake, you would think it was the end of the world!" she said, exasperation in her voice carrying across the phone lines. I thought about this for a moment, thought back to my first big break-up, when I looked down at the subway tracks and for just one fleeting moment, imagined ending my pain. I would never have done it, you understand, but that pain is unlike anything else.
"But Ellen, for him it is the end of the world. Don’t you remember that pain?" I said to my older sister. I could hear her let out a long breath. Finally she spoke.
"Yes. That's the problem. I don't want to live through that again, even second-hand."
The truth is, dear readers, when it is your children, it isn't second-hand. In fact watching them go through it is sometimes harder than your own growing pains, but that is just part of the package. I know I have a long way to go before my young son will go through the difficulties of adolescence, the incredible emotional growth of his twenties, and the end of his first love, but watching my sister I understand her dilemma, and I am also learning from it.
Now, whenever I feel overly nostalgic for my cool New York City clubbing youth, I think of the emotional rollercoaster I endured in my black fishnets and leather jackets. The social cruelties, falling in love, and having my heart broken. Now, I'm not suggesting that any of us only remember the dark sides of our youth, but with the positive and negative and that truthfully, no time of life can be better than the present, particularly since — I don't know about you — but I am only just now benefiting from the things I learned in my 20s and 30s!