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I'm Turning 50 And My Daughter Is Suddenly Terrified

She's already learned that life is precarious and unpredictable.

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illustration of 50th birthday cake surrounded by balloons
carolyn sewell
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I’m turning 50 years old in a few weeks but my 17-year-old daughter wants me to stay 49 forever. She and I are close. If I wasn’t her mother and we were the same age, I’d want us to be friends. But I’m her mom with my rules and restrictions, even if we did just see Harry Styles in concert together and borrow each other’s shoes on occasion.

I want to go away for my 50th but she doesn’t want me going anywhere. My husband, Joel, her father, died unexpectedly a few months after his 50th birthday. I am in good health, but still, she knows that life is precarious and unpredictable.

We celebrated Joel’s 50th in Mexico. We stayed in a sun-soaked resort right on the beach, where the toughest decision we had to make every day was pool or beach? Margarita on the rocks or blended? Guacamole, salsa or both?

The distance from our room to the pool was massive, a solid 10-minute walk that included a lot of stairs. My husband had multiple sclerosis, and the heat didn’t help. There was one afternoon that Joel stayed in the room working. After an hour or so of missing him, in our cabana with the side panels for privacy and the bed-like chaise longues, I got up and used the house phone by one of the pool bars and insisted he come down to join us. Yes, it was a trek, but I didn’t want him to miss this moment. The sun was shining, ocean waves were crashing below us, I wanted him close.

He was thin then, and when he moved, he looked like a newborn horse expected to walk just a few minutes after birth. He made his way down the grand circular staircase, in his silly Gilliganhat, swim shorts and cool rock ’n’ roll T-shirt. We sat in our beach bed with our newspapers and music and daughter right next to us. It was our family and life was good. We have a picture from that day that I cherish. We’re all sitting at the pool in our bathing suits. I post it on Facebook on Joel’s birthday every year because it was his last and I want people to remember … he was young, we were happy … he was here.

Two months later, Joel was hospitalized, fell into a coma, and died from complications of West Nile virus and multiple sclerosis. It’s no wonder this year is particularly fraught for our daughter.

People have started asking, what do you want for your birthday? I tell them, I want to travel, I want to celebrate with friends, and I want my daughter to feel safe, happy, nurtured and loved. (Which, by the way, isn’t exclusive to my birthday.)

I think I’ll save my Big Birthday trip for another time. I may treat myself to a nice pair of shoes I’ve been eyeing. I will let my daughter borrow them.