Fortieth Birthday

It’s our daughter Alissa’s fortieth birthday. My first impulse was, “That can’t possibly be true!” My second was to remind myself that it will be my seventieth birthday this year. My third was to sit down and stew. All the cliches about time flying whizzed through my head. I didn’t like that most of my reactions could have been written on a Hallmark card. I wanted mine to be unique and all my own.

I still remember that moment when, in the hospital during a tropical storm in New Orleans, I gazed at her for the first time. And you guessed it–love at first sight. Her cries were something new, something never before heard because they were the cries of my child in my arms, hers, her very own. I know that at 2 a.m. when she started letting out a racket that could wake the dead, I wondered indignantly, “Someone ought to take care of this baby,” and then I suddenly realized that someone was actually me and I better step up to being a mom, not a kid anymore. Someone else was taking my spot.

There are glimpses of memories of her giggling, learning to sit up, learning to crawl, learning to walk. Her little behind wiggling in her diaper. I can see her dancing and singing into her toy microphone, blond hair flying, big green eyes full of everything new, full of first times, full of potential and future.

Then the divorce, the sadness, the realization that no matter how I tried I could not protect her from the shit life throws at you. But her resilience astonished me, her drive for a good life, her acceptance when I dropped a new dad and three brothers in her lap. I wish I could go back and make that easier, too, wish I could have had more time, less stress, more money, shorter work hours.

So many things I would do differently, so regretful of mistakes I made.

Then I suddenly sat up straight with an epiphany. That baby, that day in that tropical storm, she survived it all with grace and humor and ambition and kindness and love and anger and hard work and strength of character because she came like that, into the world; I got to watch her grown and be. She became a mom herself, and she is shouldering that new role as she has always done, with, “This challenge is here, let’s get busy making the best of it.” I relaxed finally and felt a release. It is her turn now, mine to just watch and applaud. Mine to smile and clap. I felt a shift, a moving over, resignation, an acceptance that my job is done and that I must have done something right.

She is the evidence.

Fox Glacier, New Zealand

10 thoughts on “Fortieth Birthday”

  1. You did it right, with all the perceived wrong turns and bizarre choices and look who stands there by your side…your best work.


  2. Come on Carrie , you aren’t old enough to have a forty year old daughter

    With Kindness Janine Coughlin Sent from my iPhone



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