My 14-year-old daughter has an agent. I do not. And I don’t exactly need an intervention from Dr. Phil to know that this isn’t working for me. I knew this the moment Tate’s agent called to invite her to San Francisco’s “Fashion’s Night Out.” When I let her know that I’d be coming along as a chaperone, she replied, all business: “No problem. I’ll just mark it as Tate plus one.”
“Plus one.” I don’t know how Webster’s would define this verbal duet of social doom, but it was clear to me that I had just become the anonymous and insignificant guest who’s merely invited so that the person they want to hobnob with will feel comfortable enough to show up to their event. For my 14-year-old daughter.
If I had been directing this moment as a movie scene, the filming would have turned to slow motion to capture Every. Twitch. Of. The. Horror. I’d probably have to throw in a deafening heartbeat audio clip, to boot. Tate’s plus one? For God’s sake, the only time anyone is my plus one is on an Evite to an in-home shopping party where the hostess gets bonus banana-berry candles if I bring a spendy friend with me.
Yet there I stood, feeling like a rotten mom for being only 70 percent proud and excited for my daughter. The other 30 percent of me was too busy to join in the celebration, as it was still deciding if second billing would go to envy, or the guilt over having envy of my very own daughter. What I really wanted to know right then was if it was O.K. for me to want my children to achieve their dreams with every single part of me — with the tiny caveat that they wait for me to reach mine first.
The only saving grace in this dysfunction-in-the-making is that our dreams are not the same. In fact, the only thing they have in common is a go-big-or-stay-home philosophy. While I ascribe to it with the goal of validating, entertaining and inspiring every fragile soul who’d hear me through writing and speaking engagements, my girl wants to tear up runways as a model.
Where we differ the most is in the progress we have made. While I have made teensy steps forward over 10 years of practice, things are moving faster for her in just a couple of months. My first gig was a pro-bono article for the local weekly newspaper, while hers was an invitation to audition for an Oscar de la Renta runway show. To add to my suffering by comparison, new opportunities come to her weekly, while I anticipate mine with the regularity of Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale.
What feels threatening to me about Tate’s success must stem from the image I have of my older self. It’s an image that consoles me whenever I get overwhelmed with the realities of my 44-year old me. There I am in my mid 60s, with most of my ya-yas exorcised from my system. I see the face of the calmer, gentler me who sits down in quiet satisfaction to admire the accomplishments of my children. Because, by then, surely I will have mellowed out enough to delight in their victories instead of feeling the angst of my own ambitions still awaiting their chance to shine.
Though I never gave this much conscious thought before becoming a “plus one,” I now see that I held an invisible timeline to all of this. I saw the ages of 20-50 as the go-for-it years, where a person would make their mark, or accept that they wouldn’t. And, then, at 50, they would pass the baton to the spry ones and step back to root for them as they took their turn in the spotlight.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that my first unspoken draft of this timeline was 20-40, until I turned 40 and needed to buy myself some more time.
Now, as I scurry around, trying to make my mark while juggling the needs of my family, friends, bill-paying job and home, I fantasize about the mellow me. In these visions, my husband and I are sipping tea on a porch swing with our 30-year old daughters. And I am everything I should be: proud of our girls, accepting of whatever I did or didn’t accomplish during my heyday, and grateful that all of our combined disappointments and transgressions have still left us a tight-knit clan.
Yet even though these escapist thoughts help me through moments of drudgery and drama, there isn’t a single part of me that wants this tranquil life yet. Though sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it aloud because the odds are seriously against me, I still have a big dream. I ooze with hope that my thoughts and words will be seen as a source of light to enough people in this often heavy-feeling world of ours that I could quit my day job and make a living through my passion.
To say that I am not ready to extend the baton to the next generation, then, is an understatement. So much so that I clutch that damn baton tight to my chest so that no one could mistake me for prepping for a transfer.
Until recently, my internal timeline and general sense of optimism have allowed me to believe that my dreams can still come true. These thoughts are now feeling threatened as I sense an anxious tap coming from behind as Tate reaches out for that baton. And I can’t help but alternate between feeling like I should let my own dreams go and pass it to her, and wanting to beat her back with it.
I do my best to tuck any thoughts of beatings away when I watch Tate in her element. This allowed me to stand in awe of her as I took position as her “plus one” during Fashion’s Night Out. The admiration I felt had nothing to do with the clothes she wore or even how she looked in them. Instead, I marveled at the confidence my 13-year old had strutting around a posh department store in which we would have little business even browsing.
So I watched my baby come alive in a setting that seemed to do for her what a walk down the produce aisle of Safeway does for me, when an acquaintance stops to say that they enjoyed my latest column in the local newspaper. I know very well that tingle of validation and excitement that makes you think you might just get the chance to take your dream to the next level.
For Tate to reach hers, though, we both have to say yes to the opportunities presented to her. And given the issue of limited time and energy for dream chasing in a full modern life, there’s no denying that a yes for her takes away from the bandwidth I have to move forward myself. In fact, it often makes me feel tired enough to consider pricing those porch swings.
The other issue is that her particular dream scares me, as many models struggle with body image issues and the wrath of envious teenage “haters.” But providing an outlet that celebrates her “freakish” height won out, as did the threat of me being called a hypocrite. I guess you can’t really hang a dream catcher on a kid’s wall and then carve some fine print into the twigs that reads: “All dreams must first be approved by Mom.”
As I spell out the complications for us both here, I feel the optimism rise again and force me to consider that the only etching I should do is on the supports of my own timeline. These new carvings would have to allow for the possibility of all of our family women running after our big dreams, with no baton in sight.
This essay orginally appeared on More magazine's website: www.more.com
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