“The View from Here”

Taking stock of my life as an older parent, I notice some missteps. But thanks to my daughter, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Life as an older, single adoptive mother

Some mornings I look in the bathroom mirror, caught off-guard by my reflection. As the unforgiving daylight filters in, I notice lines beneath my eyes, creases in my forehead, and a certain sag to my face that reminds me that I’ll soon turn 50. It seems like only yesterday that I (in a little black dress) celebrated my 40th birthday. I was childless then, but before long — at age 42 — I would go to China to adopt a baby. From that moment on, the pages of my calendar would flip forward at a dizzying speed. While Eleni was learning to walk, talk, run, read, and play soccer, I was getting older, too. I just didn’t think about it.

Most mornings, Eleni barges into our tiny bathroom, disrupting my reverie. At age eight, she has flawless skin, sleek black hair, and the tight, toned body of an athlete. She greets me with a loud “Hi, Ma!” and a bone-crushing hug, then launches into her morning broadcast. Eleni will discuss breakfast, her previous night’s dreams, and what she’ll be wearing to school that day. But she’ll never once say, “Gee, Mom, you really could use some concealer” or “You’re absolutely right, Ma. Those pants are pretty tight on you.” Instead, she spoils me with compliments. And lately, when an offhand remark slips from my lips, she’ll reply, “Oh, Mom. Don’t feel bad — you’re not old. You’ve lived half a century. That’s great!”

Eleni is easier on me than I am on myself. As the clock ticks toward 50 and I slip deeper into life as an older parent, I wonder where the time’s gone, and what I’ve really done with it. Certainly, adopting Eleni and becoming a single mother has kept me pretty busy. But what of the days, months, and years I let slip by, wallowing in fear, inertia, and procrastination? By 30, I’d always assumed, I would have hit my career stride and learned to cook a proper meal; surely, by 40, I would have written a book or two, been married, and had children. Oddly, though, life took on a rhythm of its own, and certain goals continue to escape me.

At the half-century mark, I still consider boxed mac and cheese my house specialty. I get ideas for books I want to write, then lazily toss them in a folder. I say I like the idea of marriage, but I avoid dating like the plague. And though I dream of adopting more children, I know I’m too tired and disorganized to start again.

Eleni, though, doesn’t seem to judge me on my lack of career drive or domestic prowess, and she looks to the future with her trademark whimsy and optimism. As the years go by, she sees herself growing taller than I; in 10 years’ time, when she’s 18, she’ll have dyed her hair a light brown (no body piercings, thank goodness) and be attending college, studying to be a mathematician. By that time, I’ll be hitting 60, and, as Eleni jokes, looking like “a little prune.” Though I sometimes envision my golden years as being kind of quiet, Eleni says that won’t be. “Oh, no, Mommy,” she tells me. “We’re going to adopt another girl from China, and she’s going to be eight years old then. Plus, I’ll be living at home until I’m 25, and we’ll have a million doggies.” The whole picture sounds rather pretty; but, as my hair grows grayer by the day, the thought of it makes me…well…kind of sleepy.


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