dear daugh­ter

Dar­ling, I’ve made a mis­take. An­other mis­take while mother­ing…

ELLE (Australia) - - Man - BY MEG MA­SON

This mis­take is worse than the time I let a can of chick­peas roll off the top of the stroller and onto your head, ac­count­ing for – we’ve since de­cided be­tween our­selves – your in­abil­ity to really grasp Year 7 al­ge­bra. Worse than the hun­dred other big and small er­rors I’ve made on the way to get­ting you to al­most 13 years old, mostly happy, clean-ish, well fed (on week­nights any­way) and 100 per cent not run over.

What made me see my fault was partly a study by psy­chol­o­gists at some­thing called the Fam­i­lies and Work In­sti­tute and partly a silly greet­ing card. The card said this: “The new sponge in my sink just bright­ened my day. Be­ing an adult is stupid.” The sur­vey found this: when asked the “one wish ques­tion”, chil­dren didn’t want more things or un­lim­ited screen time or even more qual­ity time with their par­ents; the vast ma­jor­ity of kids would use a sin­gle wish to make their mum and dad less tired and stressed. The strange nexus of those two mes­sages, that adult­hood is stupid and stress­ful to watch, made me re­alise that I’ve been say­ing ex­actly that to you. Not out loud, but through the sigh­ings and doors shut slightly too hard, through en­tire days when the at­mos­phere at home has prick­led with the en­ergy of two par­ents near the edge.

Amer­i­can writer Anne Lamott says we adults do you great dis­ser­vice by in­sist­ing that “Mummy’s not cry­ing, Mummy just has al­ler­gies”, even though you’re smart enough to know we’re ly­ing straight to your sweet, open face. You know things are hard, you can see that for your­self. But have I made you think it’s all too hard? If so, I’m not the only mother guilty of it. “Fail­ure to launch” is a clever name for why the gen­er­a­tion above you is still liv­ing at home at 30, not get­ting mar­ried or hav­ing chil­dren or real ca­reers, and buy­ing trips and hand­bags with money Mum gives them. That lin­ger­ing half-life of ado­les­cence is the di­rect


re­sult, ac­cord­ing to the book How To Raise An Adult: Break Free Of The Over­par­ent­ing Trap And Pre­pare Your

Kid For Suc­cess, of the gen­er­a­tion above them mak­ing adult­hood look so bleak and un­en­tic­ing. Do you some­times, in the quiet of your own mind, re­solve that you won’t do it like me? That you might not bother with any of it? Have you re­alised be­fore I have that it can’t be done all at once, all at the same time? Back­lashes are, af­ter all, your gen­er­a­tional obli­ga­tion.

But I’m your mother, which means I want you to have it all. All the rich, messy, de­li­cious, hi­lar­i­ous, salty, ex­hil­a­rat­ing things that adult­hood has to of­fer. Be­cause I for­got to say it so far, let me say it now. Let me amend this mis­take. Adult­hood is amaz­ing. Yes, there’s lad­dered tights be­fore a job in­ter­view, hav­ing to spend ac­tual real dol­lars on car tyres and let­ting a tod­dler vomit into your held-out new Alexan­der Wang jumper in lieu of a more suit­able ves­sel in lung­ing dis­tance. But guess what else there is…

There is fall­ing in love. You are 12 and ob­li­gated still to cover your eyes and scream, “Ew, is it fin­ished?” when any­one does kiss­ing on TV, but just wait. One day, you’ll meet some­one who feels like the bit of you that’s been miss­ing this en­tire time. Think­ing about this per­son, see­ing them, ac­ci­den­tally touch­ing el­bows with them af­ter suc­cess­fully or­ches­trat­ing the ar­range­ment of chairs so that you end up seated be­side each other, will set off the sort of charge in your body that could kill a small an­i­mal.

And if it turns out that per­son has been work­ing chairs the same way so as to be near you, and if they turn out to be kind and gen­tle and funny, to­gether you’ll de­cide, quite am­bi­tiously and grandly and stun­ningly, that you might just spend ev­ery day of the rest of your lives to­gether. And there it is, there’s home. You’ve found it. And it’s amaz­ing.

For a time, too, you’ll be alone and dis­cover how deeply ad­mirable that is. To be some­one who can dis­cover Buenos Aires by them­selves, or buy a flat without a stick of help, who can put to­gether an IKEA Expedit you dragged home in a taxi and still make din­ner for six the very same night. And if you choose to one day, you’ll get to stop the ro­ta­tion of the earth it­self for a few mo­ments. Be­cause you’ll have a baby and when they’re handed to you, the en­tire planet will stop mov­ing. You did that! When you run the side of your thumb along their tiny arm, barely able to feel the skin for it be­ing so soft, when you feel their life force con­nect­ing to you for their first sus­te­nance, take just one sec­ond to no­tice how per­fect you just made ev­ery­thing. Then ring your friends. They’ll have been up all night wait­ing to hear.

Be­cause, oh, the friends! The age you are now, friend­ship is a game, a con­stantly shift­ing hi­er­ar­chy based on pret­ti­ness and a sort of con­fi­dence that only looks real, but is in fact deeply ef­fort­ful and re­hearsed nightly in front of the mir­ror. But if you are lucky – and you will be – you’ll find your real peo­ple as an adult, and you’ll get to do all of life with women who can make you laugh un­til your pelvic floor is fa­tally com­pro­mised, who’ll sit be­side you, their own eyes red­den­ing at a sad­ness of yours, who’ll talk you up to de­mand­ing a pay rise, who’d kill a man for you if it came to that. And who’ll al­ways get the per­fect amount tipsy with you so that your din­ner par­ties can take A Rau­cous Turn.

Those din­ner par­ties. My gosh. You’ve been kept awake lis­ten­ing to them from your bed­room up­stairs, and I prom­ise they’re as fun as they sound. Es­pe­cially once a gui­tar comes out. And a bot­tle of port, the ori­gins of which no-one could quite say; it was just in the cup­board. If by a stroke of luck, the ocean is nearby, the men present will de­cide that since it’s midnight, it’s time for a swim and rise from the table as one. One of your friends will al­ready be asleep on the sofa and you’ll curl up be­side her, while an­other does the dishes be­cause she knows you have an early start, an­other holds the baby who hates travel cots. It’ll be per­fect, that mo­ment when ev­ery­one is to­gether un­der one roof. Your whole tribe. Also, maybe you should all go to Paris? Yes, you’ll say, we should go to Paris.

It can’t al­ways be that night but know that as un­in­ter­est­ing as the com­po­nent parts of adult­hood might ap­pear to you now – the new sponges in the sink – adult­hood lets you see the beauty in the or­di­nary. We’re ac­tu­ally ex­cited by cups of tea, sun on au­tumn leaves and find­ing three of our favourite dis­con­tin­ued lip shades at a re­gional Myer.

Bring the best bits of child­hood with you – the run­ning, sea-swim­ming, draw­ing and read­ing – and be­tween that the big life high­lights – the trips and the wed­dings, the par­ties, the get­ting pub­lished, the mak­ing of a gar­den – be­cause there is so much worth striv­ing for. So strive for all of it, please, dar­ling, be­cause it’s all amaz­ing.

I’m sorry I made it look too hard. And as ever, I’m sorry about that can of beans.

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