Speaking as an older mother in a very young Jewish community of ‘0- and 30-something parents, I find myself much outside of the box. It is not exactly by choice that I have a late-in-life child. Some things simply happen, and others are meant to be in a way that is indefinable. Parenting is a tough job with a partner and support system, and 100 times harder flying solo.
Ani Cohen and his mother, Sandra Steur Cohen.
I had already raised three children to emancipation and lost my life partner when a situation arose that led me to motherhood yet again. It was an unusual occurrence and like many women in their 40s, I had long stopped actively thinking of babies and caring for them. Or perhaps not, for the year that my husband died I had the opportunity to adopt yet another infant. I did not give it much thought, for the decision had already been made by some unfulfilled mothering instincts that were still inside my heart. I was reaching the end of my 40s when I adopted my son, the age at which my neighbors were already grand-parenting or at least, paying off college tuitions.
Of course, being a divorced mother is far from unusual in the suburbs, but being an adoptive single mother at my age certainly was. From the start, it was all-consuming and very tedious caring for a young infant. I had little time to think about my situation, but simply went with it, relearning all I had forgotten about infants as well as re-buying what I had long, long ago thrown out. Sleepless nights with a sick child are not fun for the best of us, least of all for me. I also had to rethink my position among my contemporaries, finding that many of my so-called friends were not terribly interested in my new baby and his day to day progress. I was knee-deep in dirty diapers, finger foods, "Goodnight Moon," SpongeBob, Legos, and local parks, where I found myself spending a good few hours each day. Admittedly, it bored me to tears, especially when I found that the younger mothers thought I was his grandmother and for the most part ignored my presence. I found my place by starting conversations on child development, preschools, and babysitters with those who deigned to acknowledge me as one of them.
I loved and adored my son beyond all else. He was the center of my universe, and this time there were no other children to compete for my attention. I worked part-time in the first few years and kept money coming in as well as remaining a part of the adult world. Coming home to a young child was lonely, and I often missed the companionship of men and women my age, who disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared in my life, easily tiring of the noise, commotion, and attention I gave mostly to this beautiful child.
As he grew, it did become easier for me. A precocious child, he loved to talk both at home and to other adults, finding himself the center of everyone’s attention. So it often is with "only children." With all of the issues involved and the loss of my own mother, focusing on my son became the way of life I chose.
I had another chance at loving and raising a child and being a "do-it-yourself" grandma for the first time, all at once. Isolation from my contemporaries was an issue, but over the years I have met several other older moms, perhaps in different life situations, to whom I could talk about something other than school and play dates. Fortunately I have made some friends of other adoptive moms, who understand exactly where I come from. We live in our world of work, and then our unique and difficult world of raising a child alone, with just a little less koach than those at the parent-teacher meetings.
I will be an active, ‘4/7 mother long after others have forgotten what that is like, but so what? I believe that women should have a choice as to when they should have children. Technology is changing and giving women more time in which to bear children. As we tend to live longer than men anyway, it should be our right and privilege to do so.
Adoption is a beautiful way to become a mother, and those older children in foster care, who are no longer "desirable" because of their ages, handicaps, or cultural backgrounds, would do well with a parent who was devoted and loving regardless of his or her chronological age.
My home is no longer as neat and clean as it was pre-last child, nor do I always feel relaxed with contemporaries, as my mind is elsewhere. Others of my age might begin to be forgetful, but I am not permitted to forget. I cannot imagine what disasters would befall us if I did. I am certainly driving more carefully and not taking risks I might have taken before or even now, without a growing child. I am reluctant to have guests in my home, as nothing is new or in place the way I would like it to be, and I am more careful with money because of the expense of childrearing. There are no grandparents as other children might have with whom to celebrate the myriad of Jewish holidays or to give my son gifts, and often it is saddening. When I think of his bar mitzvah coming this year, my heart sinks at the thought that now he has no father or grandfather to stand with him, and no grandmothers to sit with me and kvell. Yet no one’s life is perfect.
I enjoy so much about being a mother to my son and watching his clothes shrink as he grows. I have more time and understanding for him than I did for my other three children, two of whom are now parents as well, but I do repeat mistakes, and often my patience wears dangerously thin. What a fallacy that we are more patient. There are so many things I have learned from my experience and I must often stand by and hold my tongue seeing my now younger friends and neighbors make foolish mistakes because they have "read something in a book."
I probably could write the longest-ever "book of mistakes" myself, but I just do the best I can. I am so full of love for my child, and all that is returned to me as my son grows up and, finally, just maybe, so do I.