In this week’s portion, we read of Sarah, who, it is said, gave birth to her first child, Isaac, at age 90. I have often thought of Sarah, who waited endlessly for this miracle of childbirth, during my own childless years — and even more so after I finally did give birth later in life. My fourth and last child was born to me at age 48, after the death of my husband. In the Bible, it says that “Sarah laughed” at the thought of bearing a child at her age, and I did, too, at the birth of my son; at the strangeness of fate, the irony of motherhood… so late.
Today, many women are starting families later because of career choices and lifestyle. But not in my Modern Orthodox Teaneck, N.J., neighborhood, where most people begin their families very early. It is often alienating to be an older, widowed mother among a sea of young, married women.
And as little as I have in common with these younger mothers, I often feel I have even less in common with women my own age, who long ago finished the phase of cars filthy with unrecognizable substances and an indescribable, pervasive odor of decayed something. I envy them their chaos-free zone; no gum stuck to floors or furniture, no music blasting; the quiet of an empty nest. Until my youngest child is neater, cleaner and older, my home will not be a sanctuary.
But older parenting has turned out to have its compensations. My son challenges me to be much more active than I normally would be at my age. And I have the opportunity to use all the intelligence and mature wisdom that I’ve acquired through my (many) years. I am not as prone to compulsivity as I was when I was younger, and feel free to “just say no” to hated sleepovers, peeled carrots in lunchboxes and the all-time dreaded board games. I give freely and receive a large amount of love and affection and do not worry that what I feel and do is excessive or, in fact, not enough. This time, I leave out the child-help books and play it by ear.
Sarah, of course, had Abraham and probably a slew of servants. The biggest problem for me is the aloneness I feel when things go wrong, when decisions must be made, when I must be my son’s advocate. Ultimately, I miss having a partner to share all of it with me — the fun and the difficulties.
Still, even during the times when I feel melancholy and overwhelmed, I think of my own contemporaries in their retirement communities, or wintering in Florida, bored to tears. I am ever so glad I do not have to play golf and bridge, instead of basketball and birthday clown. Feeling so much younger, I will continue to laugh, just as Sarah did, at my very own personal miracle.
Sandra Steuer Cohen lives in Teaneck, N.J., after having spent many years in Israel, where she adopted her other three, now grown, children.