Forever Young

by luciditewriting

Last weekend, we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday. Between the domestic work of hosting a party (a pleasure, but work nonetheless) and the parenting work of making sure the birthday girl was rested, fed, bathed, and clothed in a relatively saliva-free dress, somehow the actual event of her turning one had slipped through the proverbial cracks.

There had been emotion, yes. I reminisced about her birth—the moment I felt her leave my body, the first time I looked into those dark, curious eyes— the night before, while rocking her to sleep and planting kisses on her silky mess of auburn hair. My heart filled with gratitude for a healthy, beautiful child. While cleaning the bathroom on the morning of her birthday, I shed tears of sadness over the fact that her great-grandmother didn’t live long enough to see her turn one, and tears of joy that she was able to spend seven months watching her “doll baby” grow. However, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel the swell of pride, to experience the sheer profoundness of my child turning one. Not yet, at least.

When it came time to open gifts, I was somewhat surprised to see a present from my parents— they had delivered a scooter the night before, and I knew they planned on putting money into her college savings fund. As my husband helped the birthday girl rip into the package, my dad reached for his guitar. The wrapping paper was torn away to reveal a gorgeous hardcover copy of Forever Young, by Bob Dylan, with Paul Rogers’ vivid illustrations. My dad started softly strumming and singing “Forever Young” in his warm, resonant voice— the voice of my childhood.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you…

My joyful one-year-old teetered over to her grandpa and helped him strum. Across the room, my mom’s beaming face shed 32 years. As a family, we traveled back in time—as young, idealistic parents, they sang this song to me when I was one, and in the years to follow.

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

The birthday girl made her way around the coffee table, grinning widely at those who had come to celebrate her, and my heart opened. Completely. Her happiness became my happiness.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

As these lyrics—at once simple and profound—filled the room, I felt whole, confident in my parenting for the first time since she entered the world. This is what I want for my daughter. To be righteous. To be true. To be courageous. To be strong. We live in a world filled with benchmarks, titles, and external rewards. Yet, at the end of the day, none of this matters without a strong sense of self, a strong sense of justice and community.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Maria Montessori, a renowned Italian educator and humanitarian, writes in Childhood and Adolescence: “The human personality needs to be prepared for the unforeseen. The power of adapting is essential.” My hope for my daughter is that she will be able to adapt to the “shifting winds” just as her father and I have— just as her grandfather and grandmother have shown me how to do for many years.

As my dad finished the song, I realized the extent to which these lyrics shaped the way my parents raised me and how, in turn, they impact my own ideals for my child. My job is to help her develop this strong foundation, to help her become who she will be to the world. What an indescribable privilege it is to be entrusted with guiding and loving this luminous person.

Anyone looking in our window last Saturday would have seen a grandpa playing a guitar, a grandma smiling proudly, a one-year-old bouncing to the music, a papa singing along, and a mama with wet eyes. Gifts were being exchanged—the most important kind of gifts, those you feel with your whole heart and soul— music, legacies, promises and love, boundless love.