Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'm a 48-Year-Old Man Today

Preschoolers love to imagine what they'll be when they grow-up, a firefighter, a princess, but they don't give off the strong hurry up vibe that is characteristic of, say, my 13-year-old daughter Josephine who is on most days itching to take the step into full on teenager-dom and beyond. Occasionally, I'll have a child in class whose older sibling is in kindergarten and is looking forward to getting there himself, but preschoolers are much too rooted in the present for it to consume them the way it will as they get older.

I'm watching it now with Josephine who is doing what comes naturally to a girl her age, pushing back, sometimes angrily, at the familial and societal boundaries that she feels are keeping her from become her independent self. She can't wait until she can drive, for instance, or get a real job and have enough money to do "whatever I want." It's not so different, I suppose, than wishing to be a princess or even being a two-year-old saying, "No, no, no," to everything. We're born to leave the nest and just about everything we do between birth and that moment of finally taking flight is designed to prepare us for that common destiny.

I'm 48-years-old today, a man with 3 decades of adult independence under his belt. If it wasn't for the children in my life, preschoolers through teenagers, that struggle toward autonomy would likely be such an alien thing that I would rarely consider it except in those moments when they annoyed me in the movie theater or restaurant with their obnoxious assertions of self. I will never say, as others do, that children keep me young because, really, who would want to have to go through that again? No, I'm quite content to be on the other side. Instead I'm grateful for the presence of children in my life because they help me stay in touch with that essential force of human nature that causes us to struggle to break free from whatever it is we perceive is holding us back. It's an urge that starts young and intensifies. It is the urge of rebellion and progress: the bailiwick of youth.

My own adolescent struggle for independence was as intense as anyone's, and I thought, felt, and did things I look back on with shame. I also thought, felt and did things that I continue to think, feel and do today -- things about which I'm exceedingly proud.

Looking back, I can't point to a single moment when I ceased to struggle, but I'm no longer struggling, which tells me that its an instinct that diminishes gradually until it is a memory.

I remember a toy parachutist I once owned. One would wrap the chute according to the instructions, then use a kind of slingshot to launch it into the air. When it reached its apex, the chute would open and the little figure would float gently to the ground some distance away. Sometimes the parachutist would land softly on the lawn, but sometimes it would get tangled in a tree branch or the chute wouldn't open at all and it would land with a thunk on the driveway. That slingshot is the metaphor that comes to mind for this urge of youth. It is what launches us. It's how humans have evolved to spread ourselves around physically, emotionally and spiritually in order to give our species a greater chance of survival. It is the job of youth to get out there -- sometimes way out there -- and discover for the rest of us if there is something better we ought to know about.

Youthful rebellion sends our new adults into the world, spreading them far and wide, sending them out there to sow their wild oats, challenge us old people, and become their own, autonomous human beings. Those of us who are older, those of us with a little more perspective, we mistakenly think our job is to try to help steer them away from the tree branches and concrete driveways, but has anyone ever successfully done that? I don't think so. They will launch and we really have no control over where they land, nor should we. That's how our species progresses and who are we to stand in their way?

It's an interesting thing, though. As that all-encompassing drive for independence has faded, I find myself today, as a 48-year-old man, much more intensely drawn toward becoming connected with the other people. The youthful me identified with the Holden Caufields, Steve McQueens, and Keith Moons, all of whom, not incidentally, are fixed in time by the amber of being fictional characters or of dying young. I'm now far more inspired by the people around me every day and how we can become more closely intertwined with one another. I'm finding that there is more joy and wonder and love right here in this moment with these people nearby me than I'd ever imagined. I find myself wanting to pull them to me, to hug them, to be hugged back and to build something with them, anything, as long as we're doing it together.

I don't know if this urge toward community is a universal urge of aging comparable to the instinct for youthful independence, but I hope so. I see now how vitally important is was for me to be launched into the world, to wrestle in the tree branches and fall on the concrete. I might have died young, of course, but instead I discovered important things out there in the vast and cacophonous world; things I've brought back with me, and I'm ready to share them with others.

They aren't world shattering things, I don't think. They aren't even necessarily things that others haven't discovered before me, but they're new to me, and maybe they're new to you. Or maybe we can just laugh together over them and cluck our tongues over how crazy we once were.

As a newly minted 48-year-old man, that is what I'm thinking about this morning.

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Deborah Stewart said...

Happy Birthday!! You are just a few years ahead of me:)

It is an interesting thing to know that as we grow and seek independence that once we have it - we then look for ways to become more connected. I think that is why having children in our lives is so important. It keeps us connected which is a healthy thing.

I hope your year as a 48 year old man is filled with many blessings - I have found your thoughtful posts and online friendship to be a blessing in my life. Thanks for all you do..

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Happy Birthday! I hope you have a great day.
I agree with you about the natural instinct to be independent. I find myself much more reliant and in need of family (in a good way) than I was as a child/teenager. All I wanted was for them to "LEAVE ME ALONE!" while growing up. Now, at times, I find I'm worried about what little time I might have left with them.

Noah said...

Happy Birthday, Tom!
Thanks for your thoughtful words - I hope too that the urge to create community is as inherent as youthful rebellion, and that as we all get older and learn more and more ways to make community with each other. Then maybe we'll pass on those skills the children we interact with, so that our communities grow stronger and stronger as we all come into those phases of connection, in the fullness of time.

This all makes me think of something you also said in a post a little while ago - that you had no fear for the future. Hearing that from you, delving more into my studies in education, becoming a teacher at this time and my own experiences with kids and the experiences of others such as yourself with the kids in their lives - all of this helps renew my own sense of faith in the future.

Wow! Well! An outpouring! All this to say, I'm glad you were born and I appreciate you sharing your experience and insight with us. May this year hold many delighting surprises and aha! moments - that you then awesomely share with us! HA!
Thanks always - noah

Floor Pie said...

Well said. Age is a fascinating thing to ponder. I wonder if the adolescent drive to alientate and the middle-age drive toward community are somehow grown from the same ideal? Something to think about while I take The Boy to the aquarium today...

Happy Birthday!

Juliet Robertson said...

Hippy Hoppy Happy Birthday!

Do you think it's a matter of learning to value what we have rather than what we haven't got?

Unknown said...

Hi Tom! I am a newbie to your Most Excellent Blog via Ms Deborah and I too would like to Wish You A Rocking Birthday!

I myself will be "50" this summer and I also have a "13" year old daughter! My son is "15" so I kind of knew the crazies were coming and believe me they did! But my girl seems to be a whole "new" kind of crazy 13! ;)

I started teaching Pre-K when I was 18 and my style (if that's what you could call it) had evolved into a more freer kind of teaching. More Fun and with the knowledge that kids WILL grow up faster today then ever before!

So,I always wanted their first experience to "school" to be the time that they felt the most Loved, to be their most memorable times and to leave me knowing that Learning IS Fun!

I know that every child AND parent that has had "You" as a Teacher has been Blessed so much by your "Style" of teaching and Your whole hearted LOVE for them, each and everyone!

God Bless You Mr. Tom! I just wish there were more Teachers who thought and taught the way You do AND had such a Awesome School to Teach at, as yours! I know that everyone who reads your stories can not help but be changed by Your example! The World Needs More Teachers Like YOU In It Tom!

Have The "Bestest" Birthday Ever!You Are Truly A Blessing My Friend!

(please forgive me if my words aren't as eloquent as yours or your readers. I never earned my degree via paper and I never was much of a writer or the smartest teacher/gal on the block, but my heart was always full of love for my kiddos and my "Job wasn't a Job to me ...It was a Joy!" Which is what I see in You!)

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Tom!

Unknown said...

Happy birthday! I'm still struggling with mid-20's, but you given me lots to think about regardless.

Jason, as himself said...

Hey, you old guy. I hope you have a very happy birthday. Enjoy yourself! Do something wildly out of character. Or not. After all, it IS your day.

Have you read Dr. Seuss' Happy Birthday to You? If you haven't recently, you should. I love it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, I just remember you as the really cute guy who had the cutest girlfriend in high school. You always had a lightness about you that I admired and a sincerity that showed in your face. I am embarrassed at the superficial way that I knew you. You have become so much more than I would ever have thought, an incredible artist, an eye opening writer(one that makes me feel), and a great father to a lovely girl. I am sure your wife would agree with me.
Thanks for showing me who you really are and sharing on such an empowering way. You make this planet rock!

SurprisedMom said...

Happy Birthday Tom!

I loved reading your post today because I discovered so many of the same things you have along this road called life.

My Oldest is the one who is the obviously independent one, who struggled to leave the nest, who wanted to drive from the time she was 8, yes 8, and is doing extremely well living on her own at college. I learned you can't hang on too tight, they were meant to go. But, it breaks your heart at times.

Thanks for a wonderful post!

Michelle said...

Happy Birthday Teacher Tom!!! May this year be Blessed and full of Joy for you, your family and your preschool community!!!

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Happy Birthday,
You are just a few years ahaed of me in years, but I am a few years ahead of you in launching and relaunching children. My 2 children, now 19 and 21 are both in college (one abroad in South America).
You really verbalized what I also have come to realize. Our kids need to experience and handle pain, as well as love joy and exhilaration and the large gray area in between. Perhaps this feeling of holding people and the present so dearly, is that the mothering and fathering of our children has transitioned in such a way, that a new form of nesting happens within ourselves. Thanks for talking about this new stage, it's new for a lot of us.

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday, friend! Isn't growing older beautiful? We sort of "come into our own". I think when we're young, we are in a hurry to be someone, but we really don't know who we already are. As we age, we discover that it's much more important to be "someone" than "A SOMEBODY"! We want to connect and foster our sense of community. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your wonderful community! I think it makes me a better person and better teacher. (And from reading some of the other comments, I'm not alone!)

Thank you for a beautiful post. It's more like a birthday gift to us!

dv.x.3 said...

Happy Birthday Teacher Tom! I'm glad you've had the great fortune of living, loving, and rebelling for 48 years, and wish you at least 48 more of sharing your life with those you love and those who, every day, grow to love you!

BellaDaddy said...

WOW, cannot believe we missed it...but, belated as it may be:

"HAPPY 48TH"...


kristin said...

wishing you well in this next year of life.

happy birthday, tom.

Unknown said...

I hope you had a wonderful Birthday. And I hope you have a year ahead that is filled with blessings.

Thank you for being an encouragement to so many. You make the world a better place. A much better place.

Anonymous said...

A belated Happy Birthday Tom, I hope you had a great one.

Launa Hall said...

Happy birthday, dear Tom. I haven't met you in person, but I think of you as a friend. Thank you for all you do.