Don't laugh at the oldest mum in the room. She knows things you don't

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

I pitied them when I was a child, the old mums ambling into the class parties and Christmas pageants and end-of-the-year concerts in their owlish glasses, crepe-soled shoes and polyester pantsuits.

I might have danced around my bedroom at night singing along to the 1970s anthem "Free to Be. . . You and Me," but I knew that it was wrong to have a mother old enough to be a grandmother.

When I was in my 20s and lived in the pre-Botox Manhattan of the early '90s, the old mums simply looked their age: old. One autumn evening I was at a pizzeria next to a couple who I assumed were enjoying a fun outing with their granddaughter, until the man gazed lovingly at the little girl and said something along the lines of: "Mummy and I sure are having a fun night with you!"

Mummy? The woman with the salt-and-pepper bob and the reading glasses on a cord around her neck was the mum? Ughh. The little girl asked if she could have dessert, and her elderly mother happily agreed.

I looked over and gifted the sweet family with a phony Midwestern grin to compensate for my inner shuddering, and I vowed never to be an old mum. Seemed awfully sad. Also, weird. So, so definitively not my jam.

I was 32 when I had my first child, and 35 when I had my second. My last child was born when I was 42. She's now 10 years old and a fourth-grader. When I walked into her last class party clutching my bag of mini-marshmallows for the sundae bar, it was clear that I was not just an older mum. I was the oldest mum in the room. By, like, quite a lot.

It's possible I am the oldest mum in the entire primary school, though I won't be attempting to verify this. There will be no breezy quizzing of older-looking ladies at afternoon pickup. (Roller-skating to DeBarge was the best, am I right? Did you perchance watch the televised black-and-white moon landing from your playpen?)

I didn't go to the class party to raise the median age of the mums just for sport. My daughter wanted me to go, and we were bringing home the class gecko for the break. My bad knee made an unfortunate popping sound when I bent down and peered at the lizard through its glass cage, and illuminated by the heat lamp, the skin on my hand looked a bit reptilian.

Perhaps it was merely the limitations of its skeletal structure, but the gecko, Ninja, appeared to be giving me the side eye. As I looked at the gecko's food - live crickets, and the gelatinous baubles the crickets ate, and the powdered calcium to be sprinkled on the crickets before their sacrificial death, of course I regretted my decision.

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Had my older children asked if they could bring home a lizard, I might have said that caring for a lizard sounds like a really neat opportunity - for one of your classmates! Or I would have begged off, citing the family dog as the reason. But the older mum has one ace up her baggy sleeve: She says yes.

An impromptu package of powdered sugar doughnuts at the gas station? Stay up past your bedtime to finish your movie on a school night? In fact, do not even have an actual bedtime? Ride your bike before doing homework? Read comic books instead of cleaning your room? Fruit snacks instead of a snack of actual fruit? I'm your go-to gal for all the above. Whenever the answer can be yes, the answer is yes.

My husband is on board for all this. Do we care what other parents - some of whom, it should be noted, are young enough to be our children - think? We do not. Though in mentioning doughnuts and fruit snacks I find there's still some leftover remnant of my younger, aspirational, reading-every-baby-book version of motherhood that makes me want to casually mention that my husband and children have an extensive organic vegetable garden every summer. (And, yes, if I read about a parent casually mentioning their extensive organic vegetable garden, I would surely give the Nancy Pelosi slow clap.)

Wisdom is touted as the big benefit of older motherhood, along with the fabled financial security - cue the laughter emoji - and I'm as eager as anyone to share whatever knowledge I've amassed in my 52 years. Whenever I'm on the periphery of a conversation between young mums discussing bottle feeding vs. breastfeeding, or crib sleeping vs. co-sleeping, I want to exclaim: These things matter not, for we are all tethered so loosely to this world! But nobody likes a pontificating sage in last year's Danskos, and I'm no expert on parenting. It's just me trying my best. It's just me and my yes.

But I do know this: The old mothers who came before me didn't deserve the pity of a child already skilled at casting a patriarchal gaze (Mother should be young - well youngish - and pretty!) or the melancholy disdain of a confident 20-something.

The old mothers had already experienced a half-century or so of the brutal and heartbreaking days that any life serves up; the constant, low-level anxiety in the aftermath of hard times was like their second heartbeat.

If old mothers of yesteryear felt my youthful pity, they wouldn't have cared a bit. They were probably a little like I am now, thinking about the logistics of taking home the class gecko or whatever kooky thing they'd said yes to.

They were probably looking across the classroom at their child laughing with her friends while balancing a marshmallow on her nose, and feeling only triumph, only joy.

The Washington Post