- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

"Mommy, how old are you?" my youngest daughter, Madeleine, asks me every month or so. I always get the feeling shes worried kind of like me rummaging through the fridge and finding a package of pork chops dated a few days ago.

And Madeleine worried is truly something to give one pause. Because 7-year-old Madeleine is the most consistently cheerful, upbeat and enthusiastic person I´ve ever met.

"I´m 51, sweetheart," I reply casually, as though it´s just the most normal thing for a woman who a century ago might have been already a memory to even dream of making memories with her children for many years to come.

It´s not that I got a late start. My first daughters, Samantha Sunshine and Jasmine Moondance, were born in 1969 and 1975, respectively like bookends to my intensely political antiwar and radical feminist years in Washington. Shortly before Jasmine came along I had moved to San Francisco for a little personal R&R, which rather quickly slid into serious social decline.

By the time I met and married Tripp in 1983 and he shouldered responsibility for my daughters, I was ready for a normal family, though since we went on to have 10 more children seven by birth, three by adoption our family would prove to be not very normal after all.

Oh, the irony. This former liberal and ZPGer (Zero Population Growth) now follows a strategy albeit long-term of helping to win the culture wars for the conservative side one child at a time. As megaparents, Tripp and I can flex a lot of political muscle giving not two or three, but 12 children a solid grounding in the truths we hold self-evident. Leaving this kind of legacy gives us great hope for the future.

Then there is the now. Bearing children over a couple decades has led to some hilarious situations like being pregnant at the same time as my daughter and swapping maternity clothes. Sober ones too like breaking the news to her that her newborn brother, Jonny, had Down syndrome as she was expecting her own first son.

Madeleine was No. 9, born a year after Jonny. She is what we call "normal," if you consider a 7-year-old with a singing voice like Ethel Merman to be normal. We call her "the voice heard ´round the world."

I guess sometimes people think I´m her grandmother, but these days it´s hard to tell especially in California with so many graying new moms who let their biological clocks keep ticking until seconds before the final alarm. They´re now sitting at back-to-school night in those teensy-tiny chairs surrounded by parents young enough to be their children, too.

Last summer, while on vacation at a family camp, Madeleine asked me why I was older than the other mommies. What made it worse was that I actually was feeling old plus a little tired and cranky about schlepping all those kids up and down the hills for meals and crafts and swimming. I was muttering things like, "I know you had a plan, God, but what could you have been thinking?" Madeleine´s words made me wish for a moment I could be like all the other mothers young and fresh and full of energy.

Then I remembered that once I had been a fresh and energetic mother. And I remembered how back then it was so often about me. Now I´ve learned it´s not about me at all and that´s the difference between being a mother of young children in your 20s and in your 50s especially if you haven´t had a break for 30 years.

Now there´s another contingent of mommy-come-latelies not because they were megamoms or late bloomers, but because when their own children had children and blew it, these good women stepped into the breech. I hope they, too, find hope, healing and rejuvenation the unexpected benefits package that comes from spending time with kids.

I hope they have someone like Madeleine, who interrupts my writing to bring me pictures of "You, Mommy, when you were a little girl."

There I am, smiling wide, cruising up a hill on skateboard. Actually, Madeleine draws everyone on skateboards. Her pictures never have a normal flat horizon, but one which rises determinedly up the page. In the upper right hand corner radiates the sun. With a joyful smile, her subject faces the viewer, arms outspread skateboarding up the hill toward the light.

I needed this person in my life, with her positive outlook and joyful vision. Obviously, Madeleine with eight older siblings and three coming up behind doesn´t see life as a cakewalk. After all, she draws us going uphill, not down. But her art seems to say there´s a lot to be thrilled about as long as our wheels continue to spin.

I guess that´s the upside of being an older mother. I´m just becoming aware of how much there still is to learn. Just beginning to see how much some things I hadn´t noticed matter things like skateboards and the angle of the horizon. It gives me an inkling what God may have been thinking after all giving someone like Madeleine to someone like me just at the perfect time.

May your mother and father be glad;

May she who gave you birth rejoice! Proverbs 23:25

Barbara Curtis is an author, free-lance writer and mother of many.

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