Darling, I’ve made a mistake. Another mistake while mothering…
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
“ONE DAY, YOU’LL MEET SOMEONE WHO FEELS LIKE THE BIT OF YOU THAT’S BEEN MISSING… BUT FOR A TIME, TOO, YOU’LL ALONE BE AND DISCOVER HOW DEEPLY ADMIRABLE THAT IS. TO BE SOMEONE WHO DISCOVER CAN BUENOS AIRES BY THEMSELVES, OR BUY A FLAT WITHOUT HELP, OR PUT TOGETHER AN IKEA EXPEDIT YOU DRAGGED HOME IN A TAXI…”
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.