Yesterday, my mom called me while we were in the grocery store. I stood betweeen the cheese and the Easter candy, trying to hear her and not talk too loud. “I just wanted to say happy birthday,” she told me. “I’m in meetings for hours after school tomorrow, so I don’t know if I’l lhave a chance to talk to you. Plus, I know you’re going to be traveling, and you’ll probably be busy tonight.”
Well, I am going to be traveling. I’ll be on a plane for about two hours this afternoon. That doesn’t mean I don’t want my mom calling me on my birthday. Chances are, I’ll pick up the phone unless I’m legally required to have it turned off. “I also didn’t want you to feel bad, because I have some things for you but they won’t get there in time for your birthday,” she said. Woo, extended birthday! “Also, I miss you. And I wish I could give you a hug.” And then she started in on the story she tells me every year about the day I was born, that she was enormously pregnant (she was, I’ve seen pictures), had twelve hours of hard labor, and then “the most beautiful baby in the world was born.”
I’m sure all parents feel that their babies are beautiful when they’re born. What I wonder, not being a parent myself, is what kinds of dreams parents have about their children. It’s been 28 years since I came into the world, eyes open, lots of long brown hair already. Have I lived up to the wishes my parents had for me? Are they proud of me, of who the person I’ve become, of the work I do and the relationships I’ve cultivated? My mom’s always been pretty closed-mouthed on the subject of what she and my dad wanted for us. “We want you to be happy, and choose your own path in life” is about all she’ll ever say. They never pushed my sisters or I toward particular careers, but pushed us to do well in school because they knew we all could, and pushed us to go to college and have lots of experiences, because they knew it would help us become people in the full sense of the word.
In reading several parenting blogs over the last two years or so, I’ve continued to wonder about this. Most parents don’t write about the kinds of people they want their babies to grow up to become – yet every baby born, every birth story recollected on the internet represents a person who will live in the world, interact, have friends, love people, be sad, and find things they’re good at doing. Dutch of Sweet Juniper has written a few times about the future he wishes for his daughter, and Moxie has done her research and seems to help a lot of other parents with developmental and behavioral issues their children have. But nobody says “I hope my daughter becomes a dentist” or “I really want my son to travel around the world.”
Babies are born every day with an unlimited amount of potential to become a variety of people who have an infinite number of experiences. Every day, some of those paths close or change as kids get older and develop into people with their own opinions, preferences, and points of view. Kids move out and go to college, get married, travel, and some fail at things they try to do. Some people have parents who are supportive of their dreams, while others succeed despite a lack of parental support, and still others live out the dreams the parents have for them, because it’s expected or because they don’t know any different. Pagent kids may be the extreme of this, but I knew quite a few people when I was in college who were buckling under the pressure put on them by their families and by their own sense of filial obedience, kids who ended up turning to drugs or dropping out or both. It’s a fine line to walk, as a parent, a fine balance between having dreams for your kids and being supportive without oppressing them or preventing them from growing into themselves as well-rounded adults.
I’d like to think that I’ve lived my life in such a way as to make my parents proud of me. While my mom isn’t happy that I live 1000 miles away, I’ve got a good job, a great relationship, and I’ve traveled and tried new things and maintained a 3.95 GPA in my major at Berkeley. I’m 28 years old now, and I have a whole wealth of experiences yet to come – marriage, grad school, homeownership, spawning (possibly). If I do end up having kids, I hope to be the kind of parent who encourages my kids to live up to the potential they have, while still helping them to explore their talents, and supporting them in the decisions they make about their lives, even if they aren’t the same decisions I would have made.
So, I’m 28 now. I remember being 14 and thinking about the year 2000, and that I’d turn 21 soon after the beginning of the new millenium, and about how OLD 21 seemed, how far away it was. I remember being seven and looking forward to having two numbers in my age. Ten, of course, was old. I remember my 21st birthday, probably still the most fun party I’ve ever had, a scant two months before graduation and my trip to Europe and the amazing experiences I was about to have. This year is a year of planning and changes and branching out to explore new things. This year I wear a ring that tells the world that somebody intends to spend his life with me. This year will bring trips and parties and new experiences, and I can’t wait to see what 28 is like.