Thirty-nine and Pajama Feet
No one wants to hear the reasons why a blog goes dormant, so I won’t trouble anyone with the specifics. Sometimes the juggler becomes a casualty of the bowling pins he has twirling in the air above his head. Sometimes the juggler learns to put a few of the pins down. Sometimes, a rogue pin knocks him flat to the ground while he is trying to catch another. Sometimes, the juggler feels his age, and knows that the crack in his skull is going to take longer to mend than it did in his younger days and it is probably going to take more than a band-aid and cost a lot more money in the long run.
So, rubbing his greying head, this juggler rights himself and looks at the bowling pins strewn about the ground near his old clown feet and tries to pick them up again. Not all of them, but . . . most of them. He gathers all but a select few, tries to ignore the aching nags of the ones being left behind, and begins to walk away. He will find a new place to toss anew, only once or twice looking behind him to see what he has chosen to leave behind with as little regret as possible.
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In the meantime, I’ll remove my makeup and discard the heavy-handed metaphors and try to summarize what has happened in the several months that this blog went dormant.
I turned 39. I fell in love with running. I ran a 5k. I injured myself while training for a 10k. I turned 39. My friends and family got sick. My kids grew, quickly. I turned 39. I entered physical therapy for an injury. My friends continued to get sick. I turned 39. My parents aged. My children grew some more. My arts organization struggled. I turned 39. I began to run again. My arts organization continued to struggle. My kids continued to grow. I turned 39. More friends and family got sick. I began to think about things I haven’t thought about since that wretched college class in existentialist theatre.
Clearly, 39 has hit me like a ton of bricks. 29 was rough too, honestly, but 29 was more about being forced to let go of youthful fantasies and expectations of certain life markers and measurements of success. 39 is simply about aging, and about the sudden proximity of mortality and about the unavoidable prospect of loved ones dying and children growing up.
For whatever reason, I feel that 39 has given me a vantage point from where I can see the quiet spot at the end of my life as I know it. So much of living has been about the ascent up the mountain in order to get a peek about what lies on the other side. Now, I feel like I am standing on that peak, looking down on that unfathomable view, and instead of seeing the infinite reach of the other horizon, the other side is only a few short stumbles down a moderate shale slope. Standing at this peak, I wish I had spent more time at basecamp, looking around me, basking in the splendor and protective shadow of the mysterious mountain before me.
The other night, my six-year-old son came tumbling into the room ready for bed, wearing footie pajamas that were suddenly but clearly too small for him. The arms of the pajamas were stretched above his wrist, and his toes bulged the footies. The sight of him actively outgrowing his footie PJ’s, superimposed with the after image of him practically swimming in similar PJ’s as a two-year-old broke my heart to pieces in a way that was both wonderful and heartbreaking at exactly the same moment.
These days, my household seems to be a museum of tiny moments I’ll never get back. I walk into every room and I see a toy or a book that reminds me of the boy my son will never be again; of the baby my daughter no longer is. My kids were watching Toy Story 3 for the umpteenth time last week while I was preparing for dinner. The final scene of that stupid little movie, where Andy gives away his most beloved childhood toys, is one of the most emotionally wrenching film moments I have experienced in many years. I clanked the dishes especially loud to muffle momentary onset of sniffles that choked me as I listened to the scene from the safety of the other room.
Children grow up astonishingly fast. Faster, I think, for those of us who had children in our thirties or later. For those of us who chose to explore our own inner, often selfish needs before bringing children into the world, it happens even faster. Parenting is hard: my children exhaust me, and often frustrate me, but their presence in my life–as people in my everyday existence–has become a part, if not the largest part of who I am. Life after children for me will be astonishingly brief. When my children are old enough to leave home, I won’t have a long stretch of wide open life before me. I’ll be well on my way to becoming an old man. I’ll have a few short years left to watch them from a distance as they become a part of the world that I helped make for them, wondering what to do with the enormous, unfathomable hole left in the wake of their departure.
Today, I walked my son to the schoolbus this morning like I do every day. For the first time, he got on the bus without giving me a hug and a kiss and an “I love you,” distracted–as he should be– by his school friends who are helping him shape his growing world. But as he and his pal got on the bus he looked back at me, his eyes quietly apologetic as if to say “Sorry Dad. But this is the way it has to be. This is how I grow up. I have to do this.“
He does. But I’m feeling old. And it is happening too fast.