It’s that “home before dark” moment. Houses peek out from yellow eyes, a perfect clear sky starts faded blue at the horizon to deepest sapphire overhead, the leaves slip from green into velvet black and the air smells of cut grass and warm pavement. The time when you never want the evening or the summer to end.
I always wanted to do what my older brothers and sisters were doing; I couldn’t wait to reach the next milestone. Not any more. Here are just 10 of the many facets of my rude awakening:
- My mid-life crisis began at the same time as the financial crisis in 2008, but only one of them has ended.
- I’m no longer prematurely gray. It’s just gray. All of it.
- I used to explain pop culture references to my kids; now they explain them to me.
- I have two kinds of contact lenses – one bifocal, one regular – but I usually just wear my glasses and squint a lot.
- I use scissors to open everything. Everything.
- I now like grapefruit juice and black coffee.
- At the school play many people assume that I am there as a grandparent.
- I would rather watch Downton Abbey than Breaking Bad.
- I fall asleep during the first musical guest on SNL, regardless of who the host is.
- The sweaters I brought home as keepsakes from my 80-year-old mother in 2003 are starting to look good on me.
Oh, yes, there are wonderful things: children old enough to help out and talk about everything with, decades-old friends and memories, a whole lot of perspective about what matters, not getting carded. While I can’t say the same about myself, I think my mother was at her most beautiful when she was the age I am now. Her life was completely crazy then, I know now, but all I remember from that period was her confidence and style though my nine-year old eyes. And as the years went on she never shrank back, never gave up, always stayed current and engaged with the world.
If she were here today she would be glued to the TV, doing her own analysis and pontificating on the Papal conclave. One of my last memories of her, ten years ago, is of her watching the unfolding scandals in the Church and declaring that a new reformation was afoot – even in hospice she was doing color commentary. She wasn’t always right about everything, of course, but she was always interesting. In practically the same breath as she spoke of the Catholic crisis, she confessed to having a crush on Donald Rumsfeld. I hope I’m saying things like that when I’m eighty.
We are down to one daily paper and two Sunday papers from a high in 2005 of two dailies, two weeklies and two Sundays. I bore my children every week by announcing a sampling of the papers that flowed through our house when I was growing up: The Daily Record, the Waterloo Courier, the Des Moines Register, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, L’Osservatore Romano. That expanding concentric circle of news and the priority placed on reading it (no phone nor idle conversations before 9am, ever) was as formative an experience as morning Mass and Sunday dinner. Recalling how frustrating this could be from a kid’s point of view, I have to try very hard not to hide behind the paper each Sunday. I don’t always succeed.
Even though I have read all the major stories online by the time Sunday morning rolls around, I still look forward to sitting down and seeing what I’ve already read in print and the delight of going through each section to read things I know I would missed on any device. Color funnies and Personality Parade (even though it is terrible now)? On paper, only, thanks. Regional news? Still on paper, all week long (I don’t want my kids to ever ask me “What’s a newspaper like?” That would kill me). I set magazines and book reviews aside carefully so that if I don’t get to them they don’t get recycled prematurely. I still keep the front pages from momentous days, good and bad, on my desk upstairs, where they will eventually make their way to a file box in the attic. You can’t pull out a bookmark of a webpage to show children and grandchildren. I still subscribe to the print version of The New Yorker, and in a nod to marital harmony and environmental consciousness, I save only the covers (an interesting family exercise: pull out a random New Yorker Cover and see if we can figure out what happened that week just from that piece of art – the stories we make up are just as interesting as the real explanations).
I could go on and on…but I need to go finish reading the paper.