Honestly, I don’t feel a day over 12. I remember leaning on an old fence near the rhubarb on a fine fall day in 1969, looking out over the mucky little stream that ran near our house and listening to the frogs creak, and thinking that this was a very fine life I’ve got, and I think I’ll hang on to it for as long as I could, and maybe in a little bit I’ll get on my bike and pedal into town to see if there any new model airplanes at the five and dime, and browse the comic book rack at Stewart’s Drug, and then maybe say hello to Grandma and fuel up on cookies and kool-aid. That was me then, and this is me now, and there’s a conscious sense of continuity between us—and while Grandma is long gone and I haven’t been drawn to model airplanes or comic books in a good long time, they’re still all there in my mind’s eye. I can still hear the hum of the fan at the drug store and smell that plasticky reek of toluene and feel the nubbly cushions on my grandparents’ sofa. I still remember that old bike of mine, an ancient single-speed racing bike that made my thighs strain and ache every time I started out, but then felt so good once I got up to speed that I never wanted to stop…in part because then I’d have to lean hard on those pedals to get it moving again.
One way of coping with this business of living is a little denial, judiciously applied. I’m sitting in the office with a stack of work before me, and I promise myself that once that proposal is done and once I’ve met that deadline and once I’ve polished off that stack of papers, I’ll be in that contented 12-year-old state again, with places to go and novelties to explore and a comfortable home to snuggle down in. Nothing has really changed, and I can almost … taste … Grandma’s cookies again.
Denial is getting harder to maintain, though. Wake up in the morning with that stiff and aching ankle, that complaining shoulder…hey, I don’t remember those from when I was 12. And then the wife reminds you of the cholesterol and the blood pressure and no, there will be no sugar-frosted chocolate bombs for breakfast, and there’s a long list of things you need to get done that day, and the next, and the next, and suddenly you’re 49 again.
Here’s what’s even worse. In old movies they might show the passage of time with clock hands whirling about its face, or pages of a calendar curling up and flying away. More chilling by far are…kids’ birthdays. Look at this guy: he’s turning 23 today. 23!
That’s my first-born, Alaric. Truth be told, I’m really glad we got past the colic and the diapers, but gee, things have changed. No more afternoons at the playground. No more mud pies. No more towing him in a little red wagon down to the theater to watch an Indiana Jones matinee. No more reading Tintin at nap time. No more yelling up the stairs at 7AM (and 7:15, and 7:30, and 7:45…) to get him off to school.
I swear, kids are in a conspiracy to make me feel old.
I can’t complain, though. Denial is no way to live, and the other thing that one learns from watching kids grow is that change is also good. Change is inevitable. But change doesn’t always mean loss—the memories are still there, and the young man is still also the little kid.
Just like me.