My Mom feels 36 and is shocked every time she looks in the mirror and sees an old woman.

Coincidentally, my imaginary age is also 36. While I don’t see an 87-year-old gramma, I do see wrinkles and renegade hairs. (That is, when I put on my glasses). Time marches on, and up and over my face apparently. I see things are changing, especially when I stumble across photographic evidence. At 36 I felt newly minted, emerged from the cocoon of a long-term relationship, ready to spread those wings and fly. To celebrate I held a party for myself (a revolutionary thought at the time) and invited friends and colleagues. I wore red and toasted my good fortune in the confident knowledge that anything was possible.

My daughter’s imaginary age is years away, she longs to be older than 14, enamored of the idea of adulthood. In Grade Ten, she aches for Grade 12 and University… a life away from her kooky parents and same old hometown. She strains for more autonomy, responsibility, to not be treated as a “baby.”

But she’s my baby. And there’s the problem. In my mind there is still plenty of time to play dolls, linger in our PJs watching classic movies or make a big batch of home made play dough or pancakes.

When she was born, at the end of a particularly cold January, I would bundle her up for practical outings to the mall. She drew old people to her, attracted by new baby smell and her radiant baby face. Crazy old people I would call them, white haired ladies who smelled of Yardley’s, reaching to hold her perfect tiny hand. “Pay attention, this time goes so quickly,” they’d coo, nodding cotton candy heads with eerie certainty. “These days will be gone before you know it.”

Like Macbeth’s witches, they saw the future.

This year my aching to be grown up girl re-did her room and we’ve been dealing with displaced treasures with no place to live: Sheldon the Bear, Audrey the Pig, hippy Groovy Girls and their more serious American Girl counterparts.

I’ve been packing up her childhood, stuffing down emotion and stuffed animals, infinitely more attached to them than she is; each decision to stay or go is filled with gravitas. (Elliot the Big Bear is High Disapproving as I place him in the give away pile.) The 1940s dressing table purchased at a neighbour’s garage sale, centerpiece of the dressing up years, is now on Kijiji. The white bunk bed with stairs (sleeps three!) has been disassembled and sold to a family friend, along with bedding, pillows, craft table and chairs.

It’s heavy work packing up crayons and paints, craft paper, scissors, beads and Bedazzlers. There are several large plastic boxes of craft supplies we give to an unsuspecting neighbour with two beautiful boys.

Evidence of past dreams: ballerina dancer, horse rider, chef, are gathered together, part time capsule, and part diorama. Little pink dance shoes, bodysuits and skirts are dropped off at a young dancer’s. Colourful dishes, the mainstay of her first venture “Springtime Restaurant” will grace another family’s table.

She’s not sad or sentimental…that’s all mine. In the sorting and sifting I am possibly making peace with the feeling that somehow I missed it. Too busy at work or getting things on the table, too busy keeping our little lovely and sometimes leaky boat afloat.

Always assuming there will be time for an hour of playing dolls when I am not so tired. Time to read another story instead of powering up my computer. Time for another knock knock joke*, or popcorn for dinner.

Now she’s keen to hang out with her own friends, either here or her Dad’s. Time spent must be strategic, and practical. I drive her when I can, loving our moments together listening to music. She keeps me current; I introduce her to my musical past. Blondie and Beyoncé, an unlikely mashup on a Monday morning.

There’s still a role for me obviously, but its less magic maker and more military dictator. What’s appropriate to wear on a cold day, how much time is to be dedicated to homework and most recently, what to pack on a three-day camping trip.

Despite our shared history of Snow Days and snuggles, we’re at odds, my amazing girl and I. She longs to be independent and I want to be needed. We expand and contract, learning who we are without each other in the process.

I’ve heard that Mother bears teach their cubs everything they know about survival. The cubs, at first frightened and attentive, gradually grow into cocky, misbehaving know-it-alls.  Whether instinct or on purpose, at the end of the season, the once loving mother will chase the surly cubs up a tree and then move on. Leaving her now mature offspring to find a place to live for the winter, food, shelter and eventually a mate.

Mamma Mammal love.

We don’t chase them up trees and we rarely leave them. Rather, they will leave us, our darling daughters, to find their own lives, their own way in the world, their own memories and imaginary ages. And while they are of us, they are not us. Our job is to teach them what we can, while remembering who we are. Or were. Or still can be. It is going to take courage. As Cynthia’s mom used to say “Growing old isn’t for sissies!”

Let’s be brave 80 something year olds, viewing the world with the confidence of our inner 36 year old selves. Lighting the way for our daughters and theirs.

Perhaps we will meet one day, aging ladies on a mid morning mall walk, seeking out the company of fragrant newborns, and whispering wisdom to their unsuspecting Mothers.

* Our favorite Knock Knock joke was told to me by my dear friend Lee (entrepreneur and mother of three) and goes like this:

“Knock knock. Who’s there? Europe. Europe who? No! You’re a poo!”