In a few weeks, my daughter, my only child, will turn twenty.
Twenty. That means I made it. I survived the teen years. Seven years ago, I sent a newly-minted 13-year old off to seventh grade one morning and roughly four minutes later I was listening to a college student explain her honors seminar paper to me. The teen years were gone. GONE. And I won’t lie, I won’t really miss them, but I will miss being able to roll my eyes and say things like “I know, I have a teenage daughter too!”.
But twenty opens up a whole new chapter for her, and it’s a decade that seems much more charged than either of her first two. That first decade was endless (or at least it felt like it was for me as a parent) beginning when she screamed red-faced and angry into the world and ending somewhere around her 900th curriculum fair project in fifth grade.
The second decade flew by as it hurtled headlong through the end of elementary school, through middle school, high school, graduation, college searches and dorm room shopping. This decade brought the most changes. I watched my daughter start it as an 11-year old with an adorable overbite, a ponytail and a High School Musical poster, and saw her end it as a super smooth college sophomore with a brilliant smile, a chic shiny haircut and a “Nevertheless She Persisted” quote over her dorm room bed.
But the last 19 years had something that the coming years don’t – a path I could see. One that was clearly laid out from grade to grade, milestone to milestone – a parenting check list if you will. Crawling, walking, solid foods and ABCs? Check! Kindergarten graduation? Check! Fourth grade visit to the statehouse? Check! Eighth-grade Washington trip? Check!
License to drive? Check! SATs? Check! College Acceptance? Check! Summer jobs? Dorm Décor? Winter break visits home? Check! Check! Check! For someone like me, (who loves lists so much she sometimes writes a new thing on the to-do list just for the joy of checking it off), these years of parenting were very satisfying indeed.
The start of this new decade lulls us into complacency for a while, with her last two years of college still before her with a now-familiar routine of drop offs and goodbyes. But then what? Sooner than I can comprehend she’ll be crossing another graduation stage and heading off to the next chapter. And here’s where (for me) it starts getting sticky. Because for the past 20 years of parenting I’ve felt (at least most of the time) like the adult, far removed from the experience of childhood. But the twenties? Didn’t my own twenties happen just a hot second ago?
I may be 53, but my twenties are more vivid in my memory than what I watched on TV last night. And for my daughter to be entering that most unique decade makes me feel as though she’s ‘catching up’ to me.
I think back to the first years of my twenties – the summer stock gigs, the road trips to the Cape after finals, the first apartment – it all seems like it just happened — and now it’s her time. She’s embarking on that decade where college days give way to those of searching for what comes next, of crashing on the couches of friends now scattered across the region, some pursuing advanced degrees, others starting careers, and almost to a one living in apartments that can only be (generously) described as shabby.
This is the decade she may see the first of her friends get married or even start a family. There will be drunken nights in bars and lazy mornings over coffee in mismatched mugs, rejection and triumph, clear-eyes and broken hearts, tough bosses, wise mentors, and the discovery that some of her closest life-long friends are people she hasn’t even met yet.
Twenty is exciting, scary, and bittersweet all rolled into one – for her and for me. I’m entering a whole new stage of “parenting” this adult I call my daughter, and I truly am looking forward to seeing this next decade unfold. But just in case it starts to feel like too much – for either of us – I can always bring out those old High School Musical DVDs. After all, “we’re all in this together” right?
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