Getting older is freeing, especially when kids provide inspiration

Back to school night brings me back to frizzy hair and braces. To not fitting in. To my Lee jeans that I thought were incredibly cool and to the Guess Jeans that all the popular girls were wearing that made my Lee jeans suddenly look very dorky.

I’m so glad I’m not 15 anymore. Getting older is freeing for lots of reasons.

I no longer have homework, have to cram for tests, or ever take the SATs again. I don’t have to worry about where to sit at lunch, and there’s no girl drama in my life anymore. I’ve got this uniform in the way that I dress, and I’m comfortable with it. I’ve also discovered the flatiron.

I like the security and comfort that has come with age. I like that I’m way past wondering who I’ll be, where I’ll go to college, what I’ll major in and where and how I’ll settle.

However, I learn a lot from my kids and watching and guiding them through their teenage years has shown me that it’s good to move outside of my comfort zone every now and again. Following my kids along on their journeys also motivates me to think about mine.

Recently, Samuel’s been urging me to go back to school to get that advanced degree in art history that I always wanted. I had long ago accepted the idea that this would never happen. I chose a masters in English lit instead because, at the time, I needed to be fluent in another language (which I wasn’t) to get into the art program I wanted.

I’m not sure I will indeed take up a new language and head back to school, but the point is that just as they see their life filled with possibilities, they help me to see that mine still can be, too.

When Samuel became a bar mitzvah last spring, writing his D’var and speaking in front of the congregation was a challenge for him. There were times throughout the process he felt he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. And yet he nailed it — not only achieving what he thought was impossible, but rising to the occasion so beautifully. Samuel proved something to himself that day when faced with something that felt insurmountable. He inspired me to remember that about myself, too.

Last spring, Sophie’s backpack was stolen from the trunk of our car. In it was her school computer, all her textbooks and school notebooks — essentially her entire semester of work. (And it was finals week.) Seeing the smashed hatchback window, and the backpack no longer there, my heart ached for her as she sat on the street crying.

And then she blew her nose one last time, stood up and told us she wanted to go home.Once home, she emailed every teacher and got down to the work that she already did but now had to do all over again. She moved on, and that was it.

When I need to gather similar strength, I’ll remember how Sophie picked herself up, took a deep breath and got back to work.

It’s not in the ways that my kids may do things perfectly that I’m most proud. Rather, it’s in the ways that they are imperfect. It’s not the A Samuel gets on a math test or the flute recital where Sophie hits every note. It’s when I see them go through a challenge in their lives and come out on the other side that I am most gratified as a parent. And it’s these challenges where my kids inspire me the most.

When the kids were younger my days were filled with changing diapers and chasing toddlers. I reminded them to say please and thank you so many times I couldn’t possibly imagine they’d grow up to have manners, let alone have a conversation with an adult.

Who knew that one day they would fill me up, inspire me, teach me how to be strong and brave, fearless and open? I may not want to go back to high school, but there’s still much to learn. I just never thought my kids would be the ones teaching me.


Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.