How Do You Feel When Your Child is 60?

How Do You Feel When Your Child is 60?

My Oldest Daughter is Having a Big Birthday this month.

Helen Dow Matheson Hilliard was born on February 24, 1963. (just after my 21st birthday ) Second of our children. She was born in Charlottesville, VA at UVA Hospital. Her dad was in the Architecture School at UVA. We were thrilled to have a girl. Our family was complete. A Mom and Dad and two children, a boy and a girl were the ideal in the 1960s. But in fact, we had Lilla in 22 months and two more boys, Robert and Murdoch, ten and eleven years later.

Helen’s birth was so exciting because it was the first of my births that I really experienced awake and present. The thrill of that birth stayed with me. In fact it still is with me. It has colored my whole life. When the doctor put that chubby little baby up on my breast she looked right at me. Her eyes seemed to bore into mine, so alive, so full of energy! It was a shock because a year earlier her brother had been sleepy from the gas I was given before his birth. His eyes were closed and I thought it was normal. It was such a pleasure to interact with my new baby immediately. After the triumph of a natural birth, no drugs, no drifting off, just pure love, it was euphoric. And nursing was a breeze because I was experienced and relaxed.

Helen rarely ever got in trouble. There was the time when we came home and saw the girls, ages 3 and not yet 2, sitting in the second-story open window with their feet hanging out. Once we got over the shock of seeing them there, we noticed they looked different. They had had their long hair cut by their brother, Charley (age 4). Helen’s was very short all over but rather uneven. But Lilla’s was short on one side and had not been cut on the other. (Yet) I took both girls to the hairdresser the next day and had their hair evened out, but it was so short they looked like little Italian girls. In Italy when I was living in Europe in the 50s, they cut little girls’ hair very short. They said this would be good for it and make it thick and healthy. It may be an old wive’s tale. But both Helen and Lilla have magnificent hair.

As a little girl, she was smart, funny, athletic, and wild about animals of all types. Her first puppy was a black and tan, standard, short hair male dachshund named Soda. How she loved that dog. We all did. He was a special one for all of us, but especially for Helen. They had eight years together before he was hit by a car on one of his excursions off of the property. That was the saddest day. Having to tell your child that their dog has been killed by a car is something no mother wants to have to do. Helen and I had been heart-stoppingly worried about him over and over again. He was one of those “boy-dogs” who simply would not stay home. He had to wander. We lived in the country, and the temptations were everywhere. I don’t know if there were electric collars then. But that would have been the only way to keep him home. Helen mourned him. He was her first and in many ways, most loved dog ever. Now, today, in 2023, she has a new puppy at her home. May this puppy, Black Pearl, be as wonderful a dog as Soda was and live much longer!

She grew up at Heathfield, our lovely farm in The Plains, Va. Her room had a balcony overlooking the long driveway. The stable was in view across the driveway. She could keep an eye on her ponies. Helen was a super rider. She had a natural “seat,” and going out on horseback was easy at Heathfield, where you could ride out for miles. We had a lot of ponies. Over the years, Helen had several great ones. One was called Black Beauty, but she was named as a joke. She was not beautiful on the outside. However, she was a sweet, lovable large black pony. She was forgiving and wise and made riding fun for Helen. She was the sort of pony that would get up under a young rider and not let them fall off if she could help it. We actually watched her do this with a young visiting rider.

Helen holding Robert

Later, Helen was given a fabulous pony named Gremlin. That pony would jump anything. He was fine. And because of him, Helen had a wonderful foxhunting life with Orange County Hounds. She was fearless. And she had a pony that made us, her parents, feel she was in good hands whenever she rode. She did some showing, some Beagling, some skylarking around the countryside, and a lot of foxhunting. Then she was given Little Horse. He was her best one of all. What fun they had together. Later she learned to drive horses and had fun with our carriages. The best horse, in my opinion, was Winnifred. She hunted Winnie when she was just a green hunter. I remember watching Helen at a meeting of Orange County Hounds. I marveled at how calm she was. She did not seem alarmed to be on this young horse who was mincing and prancing and would not stay still. Helen trained her well. After a while, that was the horse I rode hunting. What a fabulous horse for me. Helen graduated to riding Winnies son Tarzan. We had some splendid horses!

Helen becoming herself

The only time I can think of when Helen got in trouble alone was a shocker. I think she was early teens, 12 or 13. Whatever the year, she was told she could not go to a friend’s house because we were having a large dinner party. I did not want to be distracted by taking her there. She was unhappy about this decision. Our party was an elaborate, black-tie dinner for our many guests. My table was in the “playroom,” while Charley was at a table in the dining room. As we sat down to eat the first course, a waiter handed me a folded note on lined paper. Puzzled, I opened the note to read it in the light of the candles on my table. It said, “Mom, I have gone to “so and so’s” house. Be back tomorrow. Sorry.” It was signed “Helen.” I think she rode her bicycle. I was so shocked I could barely make conversation with my guests. HELEN! She, of all my children, did not make waves. She was always level-headed and did the right thing. What on earth was she thinking? There was nothing I could do about it then. She knew me well enough to know I would not make an issue of this in the middle of my dinner party. Besides, she knew where she was going; she had plans with her friend. She was not causing any trouble. She was not doing anything wrong except disobeying the “stay home” order. It is nearly the only time she did anything blatantly against the rules. It was hard to be mad about it. But I never forgot the shock of seeing her handwriting on that note. Children can surprise you.

All four of her grandparents loved her, and she enjoyed them all for their talents and likes. She has a great number of cousins who remain close. She has always been the apple of her father’s eye. She still is, though, sharing that honor with her sister. She and Lilla are wonderful friends despite being so very different from each other. It is something I have always admired and envied. They are best friends. You do not have to agree with someone to love them. A lesson more people could learn, perhaps.

Helen, her Dad, Charley and me

She went off to Miss Porters School in Farmington, Connecticut, where she sang in their glee club. She has an angelic voice. She made her debut several times and grew more beautiful every year. Off to The University of Virginia after that, where she and her roommate Tricia had great fun. One day she told me, “I wish there were someone here to date.” I was surprised and said, “Helen, there are thousands of boys at UVA; you must be able to find one there.”
“Oh, Mom!” she said, “I’ve already dated all of them!”

Charley and I hoped she would end up with a husband worthy of her, and she did. But it was several years after school, while she enjoyed having a business painting trompe l’oeil fireplaces and entrance halls. She has always been an artist. She has a wonderful “eye” and great ability. At one point, she “marbleized” her brother Charley’s car, it was called The Slab. That was quite a sight. Now she paints gorgeous landscapes and other paintings. She can paint a portrait of your house or your dog, too. Dripping with artistic talents, she is now putting effort into the garden club and entertaining her friends.

David and Helen on horseback

She picked the perfect husband for herself (or he picked her). She and David have three fabulous (now grown up) children, Charley, Daisy, and Grace. They lived in NYC, North Salem, NY, Mill Valley, California, and Owings Mills, MD among other places, making friends all over the country. As fate would have it, now they live not too far from me. So I see them all easily and often. How lucky I am. Happy Birthday, Helen! May you have many more!

You are still my baby girl, whom I love with all my heart,


Helen with her look alike daughter Daisy
Helen and her Dad at a dance

Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson

6 thoughts on “How Do You Feel When Your Child is 60?

  1. So enjoy reading about each of your children, Bonnie; what joy they each have given you??!

  2. So enjoy reading about each of your children, Bonnie; what joy they each have given you??!

    1. Yes, she did. They had not finished unpacking their boxes when David was told that they must move to the Baltimore area. THat is when they moved to Owings Mills. They had such a great house in Manakin Sabot and they were excited about living there, but it was a very short stay.

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