Welcome to the New Middle Age

The Thinker by Rodin

Okay so I am 49 and I will turn 50 next February. It will not be long before I get that first AARP solicitation. I do not know how, but I am sure I am in their database somehow. AARP used to be an acronym, “American Association of Retired Persons”. Now it is just AARP. Nevertheless, we all know what it is, since you must be age 50 or over to join. However, you do not have to be retired.

I have no idea if I will join AARP. I do know one thing. 50 is way too young to retire. Few of us can afford to retire at 50 anyhow, although increasing numbers of 50 something Americans may have no choice. At 49 though, I feel I am in my prime. I know middle age is supposed to start in your 30s. Yet for those of us living in first world countries, and who are fortunate to have a certain income level, our 30s and even our 40s are not so much middle age, as a kind of extended period somewhere between adolescence and the onset of middle age. With so many of us living into our eighties and nineties these days, maybe 50 is where middle age begins.

Many of us have gotten the message. While you cannot stop aging, you can prolong optimal health. If you work at it, you can also prolong the illusion of youth. I do not think of myself as middle aged. When I look in the mirror, I do not see a middle-aged face. Perhaps it is vanity, perhaps it is delusion, or perhaps it is a combination of good genetics and prevention. I got the message in my early twenties that if I wanted a good quality of life, it would not come free. Therefore, I started running at 24, and have been running or engaging in some form of regular aerobic exercise ever since. In addition to popping the vitamins, I have been regularly applying the sunscreen. I have not always eaten right, but I have never had a bad diet. Throughout my adult years, vegetables, fruits and fiber have been a regular part of my diet.

Unlike my turbulent twenties and challenging thirties, life in my forties is pretty darn good. I am finally where I always wanted to be in my career. It just took twenty-five years of working hard and a bit of the luck of the Irish to get here, but here I am. My only child is nearing adulthood and hopefully will be soon on her way toward a successful young adulthood of her own. Retirement is on my distant horizon now. If my stars align correctly, it will begin in my late 50s. That certainly does not mean I will be ready for the old folk’s home, or even really retire. Instead, it is more likely I will begin a second career.

I do not remember it being this way. When I was a mere teen, 49 was old. I suspect I am as perceived to be just as ancient to today’s teens. Yet I simply do not feel like I look my age. I am by no means alone. I work in a building populated by forty and fifty somethings. We look good. Our skin may not be quite as tight as it was in our twenties, but for the most part, we are free of all but minor wrinkles on our faces. These midlife ladies breasts may sag a bit, but just a bit. In any event, there is always the wonder of the Wonderbra.

To some extent, we baby boomers succeed in masking many aspects of aging. Many women in my age group dye their hair or, just as importantly, pay top dollar for a top hair stylist. Others are liberal in their use of makeup; it hides their more prominent age spots. We dress (when we can) as we did in our early twenties. When I was a child, older men wore felt hats, pleated pants, shoes and suits around town, even when they were at leisure. Lounge around the house in blue jeans and sneakers? They would have none of it. Well, we will have none of their kind of middle age. Perhaps the time will come when we wear knee-high white socks, baggy shorts and garish tropical shirts, but not yet. Maybe at age 50 we will start playing out the idea in our minds. Not yet though.

Admittedly, there are signs that we are not immortal. Perhaps the most depressing of them is that our eyes do not have the flexibility and acuity of our youths. I have worn bifocals for most of my forties. I also have a set of reading glasses. Nevertheless, even there we have new options. Many of us choose progressive lenses. Others of us choose laser vision correction, which allow us to see even better than when they were youths. We live in something of a magic age where science and technology provides the illusion we need that, if we are not immortal, we have dramatically slowed down our entropic nature.

Though I would like to think of myself as in my prime, I am not. I hit the Gold’s Gym several times a week too. While there, I use a number of weight machines. I feel good about the weight lifting, even though it is hard work and often leaves my joints tender for a day or two. Then I have incidents that make me realize that although I am in good shape, I am cannot begin to compete with a teenager. For example, about a year ago, we brought home a used office-sized desk. It felt like it weighed a ton. Between my wife and me, we could barely get in into our house. Its destination was our loft. Try as we might between the two of us we could not move it more than a couple of stairs.

Enter Stephen, the teenager from two doors down. He is 17 and he is on the wrestling team at school. Lifting a desk? No problemo. While I lifted the bottom of the desk using all of my force, he pulled the upper part of the desk up the stairs and into our loft. He did not even work up a sweat. I sat there panting from the exertion. I was also a bit staggered by how strong the human body can be in its prime. I am in good shape for a 49-year-old dude, but he has twice my strength and agility, at least.

Fortunately, on most days I can still pretend and actually believe I have the strength, agility and good looks of my youth. It may be a necessarily illusion for me to successfully navigate through my forties. However, it does not matter. All that matters is how I feel. And I feel great.

Like waiting for the other shoe to drop, I keep waiting for real middle age to show itself. Perhaps with sufficiently positive thinking and self-brainwashing it never arrives.

I hope this illusion continues.

Idling our Male Engines

The Thinker by Rodin

(Warning: adult content. Reader discretion is advised, whatever that means.)

When you read the Washington Post Style section, you learn to take what you read with a grain of salt. If I am to take the article Cupid’s Broken Arrow by Laura Sessions Stepp in Sunday’s Washington Post at face value, male impotence is an emerging problem on college campuses. I must say the article certainly got my attention, as well as the attention of I am sure every male Washington Post reader out there. It is almost enough to have us rush to our doctors for an emergency prescription of Viagra. After all, if young men cannot get their wood up, what does that mean to us middle age guys at age 49? Is it time to have a penile implant installed?

Okay, on closer examination the article discusses just a few brave men who are having this problem on campus. In other words, it is anecdotal, not a based on any scientific study. This is probably just as well. Still, I remember being nineteen and on a college campus. My hormone levels could not have been any higher. Even ugly women were looking good. Any available woman would have done. There were of course a few problems. I was shy. In addition, the women were not putting out. That is not to say that no women were putting out. However, those that were did not seem to want to have anything to do with me. I was not enough of an alpha male for their tastes. I still had pimples and even worse, braces. If I had a problem in that department at that tender age, it would have been premature ejaculation.

That was then. While I had hoped the women of my generation were all sexually liberated, the reality was quite different on my campus. The women I wanted in the worst way were of course the most inaccessible. There were two cute single and blondish foxes across the street from me who were getting education degrees. They went to their Methodists church on Sundays and stayed to teach Sunday school. Therefore, it was up to my roommate Howard to show me a good time. This meant taking me into Orlando to a placed called “The Booby Trap”. There attractive but nonetheless dispassionate topless dancers performed lap dances and rubbed their breasts on my chests while I tried to drink the world’s most watered down wine spritzers.

If I am to take Ms. Stepp at her word though, most women on campus today are sexually aggressive. They do not need a Sadie Hawkins Dance in order to take the initiative with a man. If they like you, they are not afraid to show it. If they want to make love to you, they will be doing the unbuttoning. This is apparently a problem for many college men these days. Maybe their resulting impotence comes from all those lectures in high school about the necessity of abstinence before marriage. On the other hand, maybe they are just not that into the women who are pursing them, but have not learned how to say no. For whatever reason, the erotic connection fails them and suddenly they are half the man they thought they were.

The article speculates that men may need to be the pursuers in order for the mind-body connection to manifest itself in an erection. For sex to work, it may be necessary for the woman to play hard to get. For men, the real turn on may not be sliding into that lubricated home plate, but running the bases. It may be that for men to function below the belt, sex has to be hard to get.

Now if you had told me that at age nineteen, I would have been on the floor laughing. However, as I am middle aged now, I am of a more accommodating frame of mind. Because one of the sad passages during middle age for most men are bouts of impotence. Few of us get through middle age without at least one experience with it. Billions have been made selling us erectile dysfunction drugs so that we can still perform with the stamina we felt in our pimply faced youth. (In truth though, just the idea of Bob Dole getting it on at his age leaves us feeling a bit nauseous. So we are thinking maybe at age eighty permanent impotence is a blessing, rather than a curse.)

Still, there is something deeply unnatural about a young man, his blood still pumped up with testosterone, being unable to make the grade in the bedroom for whatever reason. For at that age, as much as we might hesitate to admit it later, being a stud comes more naturally to us than being a human being with these, well, feelings. So naturally other culprits are suspected. Booze. Drugs. Too much late night partying. What else could it possibly be? At age nineteen, had I had the nerve, I would have been a big lady pleaser at Plato’s Retreat.

Now in my extremely late forties, I am finding that sexually I have more in common with young women of nineteen then young men of nineteen. It used to be that sex was like drinking water, and you could not live without water. Now I am more discriminating. Do I feel like having sex today? Maybe and maybe not. The latter can become a problem, since women tend to peak sexually in their early forties. It is likely that this role reversal that has us nervously running to our doctors for Viagra prescriptions. Yet, even erectile dysfunction drugs will not work if the man is not aroused. Increasingly, we men are asking what’s in it for me? Oh yeah, there is the sex part. Moreover, it sure feels good. However, it is not as if we have not slid into home plate many, many times before. It is not as if sex is necessarily a need anymore. It may be a want. We may want to watch Monday Night Football instead.

Maybe that is the part of the problem with older men and sexual dysfunction. If what turns us on is the chase, and we are in a long term, committed and monogamous marriage, there is not much chasing to do. Our wives might have a headache, or be going through an interminable change of life, or have other issues putting them out of commission. However, most of the time they are reasonably available. Since we are experts at pressing their buttons, it is easy for the chase to become perfunctory. Running around the bases is often not necessary and if we do, it can feel perfunctory too. Eventually, unless you and your spouse are quite creative, sex can become both enjoyable yet a bit boring.

Perhaps that is why at some point married couples just give sex up altogether. I would hope I would not do this, but the older I get the easier it is to imagine. Sex is, after all, both pleasurable and complicated at the same time. When you are nineteen, having sex is like being in a car with eight cylinders and an accelerator with a hair trigger. At 49, the car has a few dents, and the engine needs a tune up. If stepping on the accelerator eventually moves the car forward, you feel grateful. If from time to time the engine stalls, well, you have to expect that from an older car.

Therefore, more and more of us pass the Viagra. It is like slipping some STP into the gas tank. We often wonder though if what would really please our midlife engines would be to take our engine for a test drive on some different roads. We are not entirely sure though whether our engines would take us down that road even if we want them too. So maybe it is better to keep idling the engine. Or, since the needle is starting to point to E, maybe it makes sense to just turn off the engine until there is a need drive somewhere.

Proud to be a Boomer

The Thinker by Rodin

This Op Ed in the Washington Post has been percolating inside my brain for a couple weeks. Its author is Leonard Steinhorn. He is the author of a recent book titled, The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy. Steinhorn does not discount the value of my parent’s generation, which met the challenge of World War II. However, Steinhorn does try to cut the baby boomers a bit of slack by suggesting we have done much to change the world for the better.

Supposedly, we baby boomers are narcissistic and overindulgent. We cannot manage a checkbook, live on debt and obstinately expect that we can withdraw more from life than we put in. We are told by many even in our own generation that our values are shallow and wishy washy. We are so tolerant that we have no standards, and as a consequence our society has lost its moral footing. While there are elements of truth to these characterizations, those that make them paint with too broad a brush.

It is a stereotype to suggest that all, or even most of us baby boomers, fit into this model. For every peace loving, longhaired, bell-bottom wearing radical in the 1960s, there were at least twice as many of my generation more comfortable emulating Mom and Dad. These baby boomers did not make much press because, as always, news follows those who are change agents, not those who are content to live out modest lives in relative obscurity. There were plenty of these types where I lived in upstate New York. Arguably, I was one of them. I scorned the bell-bottoms, long hair and the love beads. I liked classical music and my taste in rock and roll music was eclectic. I had little respect for the many stoned hypocrites that populated the peace movement. Most were more interested in getting high and getting laid than truly changing the world. I gave the many vocal radicals and anarchists wide berth. Mostly I wanted nothing to do with them.

Arguably, many in my generation who did try to change the world were woefully misguided. Instead of being leaders, most followed the pack. “I am a non-conformanist, just like all my friends,” summarized many of my feelings at the time. How can you claim to be different when you look like all your counterculture friends? What really is the difference between a group of hippies and a bunch of Valley Girls? Like many teenagers, we followed dubious role models simply because they were not like Mom and Dad.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that the world we inherited left something to be desired. For someone like myself born at the peak of the baby boom (1957), I could not remember a time when our soldiers were not bogged down in the painful and seemingly endless war in Vietnam. It was the youngest members of my generation that paid the price for our mistake there. Unlike the World War II generation though, our conflict in Vietnam spoke to a larger truth: real life was morally ambiguous. Moreover, our parents were overall not terribly tolerant types. Most teenage girls growing up had the expectation that their career was to be a mother and a housewife. Our surreal world was stereotyped for us during prime time. TV shows were invariably inoffensive and saccharine. It attempted to mask an ugliness to our world that was blindingly obvious to us, but which our parents kept trying to sweep under the rug. These issues included rampant discrimination against women and minorities, unchecked pollution, injustice and needless war mongering. Our childhood also included heaping doses of rigid conformity with little in the way of accompanying explanations beyond, “Because I said so!” This could easily be followed by a belt on your backside if you pressed your case.

Perhaps this was the way that generations had always been raised in the past. Perhaps necessity had required it until my generation. While our methods often left something to be desired, we were largely successful in drawing society’s attention to its own gross hypocrisies. We asserted that America could be a much better society than it was, fully embracing both equal opportunity, equal justice and maximizing human potential. We also quickly realized it would not happen unless we pushed very hard. What was unique about my generation is that we rose to this challenge.

Now clearly we broke many eggs remaking America. Our goals were laudable but many of our tactics sucked. College campuses were occasionally taken over by radicals. Cities burned. Many of us ended up addicted to drugs and with morals resembling alley cats. Along the way though many good things also happened. We ended the war in Vietnam, empowered women and minorities, discovered we were capable of real brotherly love, embraced nonviolence, cherished diversity and worked hard to ensure that the least among us could rise out of poverty. While we currently obsess over global warming, at least our air and water are now relatively clean. Prior to the 1970s, industry was free to dump as much toxic pollutants into our air and streams as they wished. The earth was our garbage can, rather than our garden. We did much to change this.

In short, my generation was a necessary change agent that called out for America to fully live up to its ideals. Yet for this, we are frequently pilloried. Perhaps our children are not as morally grounded as our parents were, but at least they are not Stepford children. Our lives may feel much more complex than our parents’, but they have the potential to be much richer and more expansive lives too. I still embrace most of these values. Respect for my planet has become integrated into all my life’s actions, from recycling, to avoiding dangerous fertilizers, to driving a hybrid, to having only one child. Because of the positive values of my generation, I am not head of the house. My wife and I are equal partners. I was as likely to give our daughter a meal or change her poopy diapers as my wife. Unlike my parent’s generation, our friends include openly gay and lesbian people. I am grateful to have them in my life, and shudder to think about how less rich our lives would be without them.

For us, living the American dream is not about a owning a mini-Monticello in the suburbs with a couple SUVs in the driveway. It is about taking delight in the rich diversity of people and cultures around us while being open to new ideas and exploring new paths of thought and action. I understand and am grateful to my parent’s generation for ensuring that we did not grow up in a tyranny. However, in some ways their sacrifice would have been in vain if their children had not leveraged their hard work so that America could more closely model its stated values. My generation’s accomplishment, as Steinhorn alludes, was to make a giant step toward fully enabling this dream. It was not a perfect realization. I am hopeful though that Generations X and Y will note that while our work is not yet fully accomplished, they will exercise their energy to keep moving humanity forward.

The Measure of a Marriage

The Thinker by Rodin

How do you measure a marriage? I feel that on the occasion of my twentieth wedding anniversary this week I should take stock of the state of my marriage. Like it or not this anniversary is a big milestone. I have chosen to spend the last two decades married to the same woman. Perhaps it should be an occasion for romance, or for sweaty sex, or reflection. Since at this point we are really just a couple of old, married farts perhaps we should just make it another Hallmark anniversary and otherwise forget it.

While we were married on a Saturday, our anniversary this year falls in the middle of the week. This makes it difficult to celebrate. We may make time for a dinner at a nice restaurant. When we want upscale dining, we usually choose The Hermitage in Clifton, Virginia. We may end up there, or we may defer celebration until early November. On our tenth anniversary, we went to a honeymoon resort in the Poconos. We will do so again, but the timing works out better for us in early November. We are parents now and we have learned to be pragmatic. In early November, our daughter has some days off from school, so she can be shuffled off to a friend’s house for a few days.

No doubt, things have changed for us in twenty years. We are kind of, sort of the same people we were back then. I was skinnier, poorer, and full of hormones. I had done the bachelor thing for a decade and was sick of it. I felt ready to settle down. I cannot speak for my wife but she was definitely skinnier and poorer back then too. I was 28 and she was 25. We had vague plans of perhaps having a child someday, but I could not imagine it happening for a long time.

Back then, my ideas of marriage were a mixture of the well informed and fanciful. I did not expect happily ever after, but I did come into the marriage with the expectation that it would be more happy than not. Otherwise, what was the point of getting married? Unquestionably, there were happy years. Unquestionably, there were miserable years too. Sometimes the misery was self-inflicted. More often, it came from unexpected directions.

In our fourth year of marriage, to our surprise, our daughter was conceived. Parenthood was thrust upon us along with hosts of other issues you expect young couples to deal with. These included buying houses, deaths in the family, psychotic bosses, babies with chronic ear infections, a hysterectomy, a variety of traumatic surgeries, finding our house flooded the day after we closed on it, and both of us going to college at the same time while working fulltime and managing a daughter in elementary school. (I completed my graduate degree in 1999. My wife finished her bachelor’s degree the same year.)

In addition, there were sweet times. For our first year together, we lived a simple life in an apartment in Reston, Virginia. We had many a pleasant evening walk hand in hand around Lake Anne in Reston. We went horseback riding on a ranch in a faux-western town outside of Phoenix. We cackled together watching bad movies on TV. We went whitewater rafting (twice). For me the sweetest parts about my marriage are the more mundane. There is something wonderfully intimate about being in bed with another woman, and snuggling up to her at night. The daily hugs, kisses, caresses and sweaty moments beneath the sheets are all part of the daily dance of intimacy that I have enjoyed during my marriage. For me this is a kind of addiction. I hope that it is a healthy addiction. Because (and I suspect most marriages are like this) there were many days when you felt like you were hit by a brick. You wondered how to keep a marriage going when so many forces are conspiring to bring it down. No matter how crazy or challenging times got, having a few constants like being able to snuggle with my wife made difficult days/weeks/months/years easier to endure.

I am definitely twenty years older. I hope I am a little wiser. Through marriage, I have learned a lot about myself and other people that I doubt I would have experienced in any other way. No question about it: intimate relationships are challenging. Moreover, it is hard to imagine a more intimate relationship than a marriage. For me, marriage has at times been like going through a crazy hall of mirrors. It is thrilling, chilling, fun and exasperating at the same time. The mirrors of course often distort the reality around you.

I have found that, like it or not, a marriage will peel away many masks. You sometimes in retrospect wonder that if you had known certain things about your spouse before marriage whether you would have gotten married in the first place. On the other hand, I was not quite the person I presented myself to be on my wedding day either. Now, if nothing else, I think I really know my wife, and believe that she knows me. If we have black boxes of secret thoughts and desires that we have kept from each other, they are likely just a few.

In addition to being older I am perhaps more sanguine too. Both my wife and I laugh when we hear people calling to protect the “sanctity” of marriage (from gays, naturally). Whoa! If marriages like ours are “sacred”, there is not much sanctity to protect. Here is the reality of marriage to anyone who has been in it for a few years. There is no entity called “the marriage”. There is no “us”. There are no sets of universal truths about marriage. The dynamics of each marriage are unique and cannot be duplicated. There is only you and your spouse, two unique human beings with attributes, issues and foibles who choose to try this squirrelly institution called marriage. Rather than being sacred, marriage can be like a karmic facilitation engine. It seems to force you to address one thorny issue after another. If you do not then you suffer the consequences for not having your real needs for intimacy addressed. Marriage means as much as it means to the people in the marriage and nothing more. You should know as a result of marriage what you want or do not want. However, do not expect that marriage will necessarily turn you into a happier or healthier human being. This is a delusion.

I will agree that marriage can be the incubator for a lot of personal growth. I say, “can be” because that is often not the result. Rather than learning lessons from marriage, many spouses do not learn a thing. Instead, with the wrong dynamics it can act as a means to retard personal growth, or even turn its participants into screaming Alice and Ralph Kramdens. I can certainly understand why many who observe married people would say “this is nuts” and choose to remain single.

After twenty years, I still love my wife and she seems to love me, in spite of the warts that time has revealed. We take some comfort in our warts, and having them known to each other, because we do not reveal them to very many people. Perhaps our love is real because by showing our warts to our intimate we still feel safe and loved.

After twenty years, the romantic flush of the marriage comes out less frequently. Yet for me it is still enormously comforting to have an enduring intimate relationship with someone for this long. Despite the hardship and chaos that life has thrown at us somehow we are still here and we are still married.

Our alarm will rouse us from bed early tomorrow to begin yet another day. One thing is a given: we shall share its joys and travails together.

Thoughts on the Cusp of Being 47

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s that time again. Tomorrow I have another birthday. To be precise, it will be my 47th anniversary of my birth. That means, in reality, I have already lived 47 years and I begin my 48th year. But never mind, 47 sounds better than 48. And age is just a number, right? So should I even be reflective about dates I check off on a calendar?

I guess so. I can’t pass any of my birthdays without some reflection. Being 47 is not particularly more difficult than being 46, and was a heck of a lot easier than turning 40. On my 40th birthday I hid indoors. Thank God my wife did not give me a 40th birthday party; she must have took my not so veiled threats of bodily harm seriously. Now turning 50 doesn’t seem so terrifying. I can join Alex Trebek and become a member of AARP, although I will be nowhere near retirement age. And I can pretend I will look a lot like Lauren Hutton, who recently passed 60. She graced the cover of a retirement magazine recently. It declared that 60 was the new middle age.

Maybe so. I can use balms like these, but as my age creeps higher the likelihood of my death becomes less abstract. Aging seems to happen at a slow enough pace so that I hardly notice the new lines on my face, or my need for trifocals, or spots of sun damaged skin or the occasional liver spot. Perhaps I flatter myself but I seem to still retain something of a boyish look. I have some gray hair but it blends in well enough with the dirty blond stuff that it’s hard for me to notice except when I am visiting a hair stylist.

In general my health is excellent. I weigh a bit more than I would prefer, but it is not a dangerous weight. And while I haven’t measured by BMI lately I work out with weights a lot, so much of my weight is muscle and not fat. Like most middle-aged people I’ve discovered I can’t eat what I want anymore. My inner child occasionally rebels against being on a perpetual diet but I’ve largely come to terms with it. I learned long ago that life isn’t fair.

I keep waiting for my midlife crisis to end. Every year I think I am just about there and I find out I was a bit premature. But this year it does feel that, if I am not out of the woods, at least I have glimpsed the edge of the forest. For much of my thirties and forties I was driven by an indefinable angst centered on thoughts of aging and death. But also I felt like my life was being directed more by what was expected of me rather than my own will. I often longed for the irresponsibility of youth with, of course, none of its drawbacks. Those fears, at least for the moment, have receded like a low tide. I now understand on both an emotional and a logical level that I am finite. That’s just the way it is. So I must accept this simple truth. This means if I arise each day in good health and with the ability to direct my life then I am blessed. I can’t stop death from happening to me someday, but I may be able to delay it. For the moment at least life is good.

I am king of my little hill again. I’ve staggered through some difficult problems when I was 46, including whether to change jobs (I start a new and more challenging job at the U.S. Geological Survey on February 23rd), my dear mother’s decline and partial rehabilitation and various family issues I can’t get into here. And the moment at least these problems feel sort of managed.

Yet the years go by so quickly. Sometimes when I think about it, it seems impossible that so much time has passed. My high school graduation is nearly thirty years in my past. My marriage is in its 18th year. But in my memory it is like it all happened yesterday. I often can’t reconcile in my mind the reality that so many years have passed. It seems surreal to be 47.

But if I have to be 47, I feel good about being where I am. I pictured myself in my youth at 47 as a much older and weather beaten creature than I actually am. For a couple years, and longer perhaps, I can have the illusion of some youth. I know I see a fundamentally false picture of myself but I don’t care.

So I am trying, and usually succeeding, at smelling life’s roses. I am fortunate in so many ways. I have a job I enjoy and that pays very well. I have the free time I need to putter and indulge my hobbies. Soon I will not have to endure the torture of a soul draining commute to and from D.C. every day.

Life offers no guarantees. It just is, but I can make it as pleasant as possible given its chaotic nature. During my 47th year my parents will likely move to this area for the simplicity of a retirement community and to be closer to my sister and myself. It will be good to see more of them and be able to help them without driving 600 miles. But their move also brings with it some anxiety of being a caregiver.

I will need to be there for them in their last days. I know I will do my part to bridge their passing. No one should leave this world unloved and uncared for, and I will do my best to make sure that is one less burden they have to face at that time of life. I will keep my fingers crossed that problems with my wife and daughter will become less difficult and more manageable in the years ahead. But there are no guarantees. There may be lots of heartache and misery in the years ahead.

All the more reason that, on the cusp of 47, to seize the day.

Uh oh, I’m not living up to my own expectations

The Thinker by Rodin

What does it mean to be a grown up? Is it a place you arrive at? Or is it a state of mind? Can we be both grown up and child-like at the same time?

I think I have the grown up thing fairly well down at age 46 but often it doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve learned generally to be a responsible person, but I don’t always like it. I know plenty of adults who don’t strike me as terribly responsible. They drive like maniacs, can’t pay their bills on time, go days without taking baths, neglect their kids schoolwork, don’t believe in exercise and buy lots of boxes of donuts at the local Krispy Kreme.

I, on the other hand, drive fairly soberly, never have a late bill, bathe regularly, try to keep up on my daughter’s schoolwork (this often feels like a second job), work out at least four times a week and generally stay away from overdosing on high fat and high caloric food.

But on the other hand this sort of life isn’t too much fun. Maybe my strategy will see me alive into my 90s, but I will have missed many opportunities to gorge myself on my favorite foods. I will never know the pleasure of a nicotine high. I’ve never been drunk nor am I ever likely to be drunk. I’ve never puffed a joint or tried an illegal narcotic. I’ve had some vices but they have been few and far between. I’d like to be more free spirited and spontaneous but I can’t seem to be that way.

I do have a goofy side and I am not afraid to show it, at least among family. But during the days and out in public I play the good citizen role. I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I have a friend who unashamedly sings wherever she goes. That’s the way she is. She can’t suppress it. She must have been a songbird in her previous life. Anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss her grits, not that she could ever utter a bad thing about anyone (Catholic don’t you know). “Here I am. Take me as I am and if it bothers you it sure as heck doesn’t bother me.” There’s a lot to admire about that attitude. I consider myself self-confident but I don’t have that kind of self-confidence. I probably never will. It is hard sometimes to put on a controversial bumper sticker on my car wondering what the neighbors will think.

In short being a grown up, or acting grown up, isn’t much fun. It’s kind of like swallowing that glass of Metamucil ever day, or having regular rectal exams.

It is hard for me to turn off that part of my brain that says do what I should be doing. The list of “shoulds” never stops. I should wash and wax the car. I should trim the hedges or clean the bathrooms. I always feel a little guilty when I take days or hours off just to smell the roses a bit. Not that I haunt flower gardens in my spare time. More likely I am on the computer, in a forum discussing politics, or playing the PHP server side scripting.

I don’t know why I do this. There is not much good reason for it. Perhaps it comes from growing up Catholic. When you see life in the prism of sin vs. non-sin and you hear daily what God expects of you, you tend to bring that orientation into life. But I thought I gave up the Catholicism gig years ago. Why if I’ve given up the theology should its overarching outlook on life still chain me? Why can’t I let it go completely?

Even the messiest person ends up dead in a box, just like me. Only they were able to enjoy more of their lives doing things that mattered more to them. Me, I get to go to heaven and report to God that I had clean toilets.

Somehow I don’t think that’s what life is about.

What sort of person are you? If you found a way toward your own personal liberation how did you do it? How did you draw figure out the line between being reasonably grown up but not too grown up? What were the factors that allowed you to achieve this liberation?