Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Daughter:The Same And Different As Me

by Amy Ruhlin

My daughter is home from college for the weekend. I see her walking towards me from across the room and for a moment, I am looking at myself when I was a girl of 20. The sight of her as a young me is so startling that I catch my breath. Since the day that she was born, I have watched in amazement, and often with relief, how different she is from me.
She has her father's eyes and the shape of his face. She has her own upturned nose and perfectly square jaw. She is well-proportioned and I am long-limbed. Her features are subtle and soft while mine are sharp and angular.
She dresses in colorful, flowery prints while I wear dark solids. She paints her nails: light green on her fingers and royal blue on her toes, colors my own hands and feet have never seen. She is sweet-natured and she is a good listener; she gives you her full attention with genuine concern. I am easily rattled and I talk too much, intent on making my point, sometimes failing to hear hers. She is patient and I am not.
She comes closer to me and I wonder if maybe it's the hair that makes her look like me: She wears it long and parted down the middle, as mine was at her age. But her hair is sleek and smooth; mine was coarse and wavy. She smiles at me and I realize that her smile is the same as mine: wide with straight teeth, a subtle similarity that seems to be asking me to take a closer look.
It's been so easy for me to see how my daughter is not like me. Our differences have created healthy boundaries and stark contrasts. They've allowed me to see that she is her own person and not an extension of me. I've seen in her traits that I only wish I had. I've seen in her, a quiet strength that made me question my own strength.
But today, I've seen myself in her and it made me smile. It made me think of ways in which we are alike.
We both move through challenges with fierce determination in the face of persistent self-doubts. We are both conscientious workers but we prefer lazy days. We both enjoy company but crave solitude.
2013-02-18-IMG_0466002.JPGWe both love words and we both write and we read books together. We both like yoga and we can strike a pose of downward dog or half moon together. We share an interest in politics and we laugh and cry together during romantic comedies. We both feel a little afraid when the plane takes off and breathe out together when it lands.
She will be 21 soon. And I now see that the old cliché, "a daughter is a little girl who grows up to be a friend," is actually true. And like most friends, my daughter and I are very different, and yet, at the same time, so very much the same.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Thought We Were In This Together

by Amy Ruhlin

My husband has grown a beard. I've known him for 30 years and he has not once, not ever, tried to grow any type of facial hair at all.

Our 20-year-old daughter became concerned when she saw it. She said that surely he would shave soon; it is so unlike him to grow a beard.

And then she asked me if this could be his midlife crisis.

"Why, yes," I told her, trying to contain my excitement, "actually, I think it is."

"Well," she said, "if this is the extent of it, then that is good news."

I know that she said this with great relief, even though she said it by text, because she witnessed my own midlife adjustment. She was often in the room as the hormones shifted, the tears spilled and the mood changed.

I agreed with my daughter that her Dad's beard was benign midlife angst. But I was also secretly thrilled. For years, I had been hoping that he would exhibit some mild hysteria so that I didn't look so bad.

My husband is a rock. He is calm and patient and kind and level-headed. And although I love and appreciate these qualities, they made him seem like a saint as he sailed through midlife while I turned into Medusa.

He and I have been together for the majority of our adult lives.

We carved out our careers and moved into full adulthood together in our twenties.

We created a family and built a home together in our thirties.

We entered our forties together and after a few years, I fell apart. But he did not and it didn't seem fair. I thought we were in this together.

I began to toss and turn at night and wake up in sweat while he peacefully snored beside me.

I began to face the reality that I had to let go of my babies because somehow, they grew up.  It was not easy letting go and I struggled. And since my husband was just as involved in raising our children as I was, I assumed that he was struggling too.

"Aren't you sad that the kids aren't little anymore?" I would ask.

"Not all all," he would say. "Those were great times but now they are older and these are good times too."

I was sure he was in denial , so I found old photos of the kids when they were small and adorable and held them up close to his face.

"Look," I'd plead, "doesn't it just kill you that those days are gone?"  But he would only smile and say, "Nah, those were fun days but now we've just moved on to different days. You know, circle of life and all that stuff." He was taking it all in stride and it was maddening.

I began to count the number of grey hairs on my head and I noticed that my husband didn't have any. Not one. As I increased the number of highlights in my hair, he combed through the same thick, dark hair he's had since he was 21.

I didn't like this solo trip. But things are looking up now that we are in our fifties.

My husband has grown a beard.  A crazy, woolly, middle-aged , grey beard.

Thank you, honey. I'm so glad we are in this together.