I turned 50 the other day. It’s not so bad. It’s certainly not what I thought it would be when I was, say, 10 or 20 or 30, or even 40. I don’t feel 50, I don’t think. But then again, I guess I don’t really know what 50 is supposed to feel like. I think maybe it’s as much about what has gone on with the people around me, as it is about what has gone on inside me. This guy looks happy and healthy and fulfilled. He is happy and healthy and fulfilled. But this seemingly contented smile at the beach is more complicated now. Its owner has lived awhile. And I am aware of the fact that I have endured a fair number of emotional gut punches over the last couple years, for example. College buddies whom I love have died. Lying too still in their beds in the middle of the night as their wife pounds fruitlessly on their chest. Jumping from the kitchen window of their Manhattan high-rise in the morning as their daughters gather their backpacks for school in the other room. Another dear friend has begun a battle with a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that I myself could never withstand. Getting word of these sudden, unwelcome developments left me breathless and sobbing on the curb while walking home from Safeway with my wife and younger son. Another time, pulled over on the side of the road, slumped and gripping the steering wheel for strength. And the third, standing weak-kneed and hollow in my kitchen, tears streaming down my cheeks, hands palm-down on the granite counter for stability.
It seems that even if you (or I, in this case) manage to survive and even thrive at the age of 50, the universe will still do its best to extract a toll. My smile looks the same, but it is different. Some friends’ smiles are frozen in time now, never to be surrounded by increasingly grey whiskers. Other friends cherish the fleeting ability to flash a smile at all, and will do so even though it exhausts them. So maybe when I smile now, I smile for each of them and for all of them. And I know there will be more unwelcome developments in the coming years. Perhaps I will even be among them. But in the meantime, I’m gonna keep looking for reasons to smile this 50 year-old smile. And laugh this 50 year-old laugh.
On that note, as a newly-minted 50 year-old, I offer three random observations (actually, three random observations conceived by other people; but, hey, they don’t blog) —
Funnel Cakes Are for Winners. Another college buddy of mine (healthy, thankfully) recently witnessed his son’s lacrosse team’s evisceration at the hands of a far more energetic, intense, and focused opponent. To his credit, my buddy stood on the sidelines supportive and silent all game, resisting the overwhelming urge to shout instructions or admonitions at the kids’ listless and shoddy performance on the field. In the immediate aftermath of the team’s crushing defeat, my friend expected his son to storm from the game with a belly-full of fire and motivation, eyes burning to do better in the next match. Instead, his son and teammates turned their eyes to a nearby food truck with “Funnel Cakes” painted on the side. Instead of announcing a warrior’s desire to drink the tears of their next opponent, the boys asked to partake in the sweet puffy pastry. With this, my buddy finally broke, announcing through clenched teeth, “Funnel cakes are for winners!” Not his proudest parenting moment, no doubt. But fabulous grist for the blogging mill, from my perspective. And one of us needs to trademark this phrase immediately. For t-shirts for that whole lacrosse team. And probably for t-shirts for all teams populated by kids who belong to everyone who is 50 years old or thereabouts and who stand on the sidelines as the siren scent of funnel cakes whaffs nearby. Even at 50, I need constant reminders to let my kids be kids. The t-shirt will help, I think.
Lazy People Invented Everything. My younger son, Everett, has never lost an argument. At least not one in which I am trying to hold down the other end. Now that I am 50, he is 12. This means that his brain has developed to such an extent that I simply cannot predict where these arguments will go. Areas that modern civilization settled long ago are now totally up for grabs. For example, he is an ardent, and effective, defender of at least half of the Seven Deadly Sins. Thankfully, “Lust” is not currently on the menu; I’m sure puberty will pencil that in down the road. But “Sloth”? Ev has me half-convinced that sloth is actually a virtue. You see, summer vacation basically means that my wife and I engage in a slow-motion chase with Everett all day every day to get him away from Fortnite, his iPhone, the couch, his bed, Fortnite, his iPhone, the couch, his bed. “Do something!” “Move your body!” “Don’t be so lazy!” So over the last couple months, Everett has in response developed a theory that “Lazy People Invented Everything.” I know that he is trying to justify and defend his inertia by suggesting there is value in gourging on Cheezits in one’s bedsheets wearing pajamas until dinnertime. I try to resist, but resistance is futile. Because I think he may be right. All the things we take for granted, and that (at least theoretically) have improved the quality of our lives, arguably have allowed us to become increasingly lazy. Everything. Which means, the argument goes, that Lazy People Invented Everything. I am at a complete loss for a winning counter argument. But I desperately need one. Because he is upstairs right now, at this very moment, munching on candy from last Halloween with a sticky Playstation controller in his hands and knock-off Beats headphones on his head. I don’t think he’s inventing flying cars up there.
Two Christmases Are Better Than One. At the end of the day, after I have curated and placed in front of my family what I consider to be a healthy and heartfelt supper, I am prone to giving in to fatigue. Maybe it’s just hitting 50. Maybe it’s just the end of another summer day with my boys that I know I should savor, that I sometimes am able to savor, but that typically devolves into the two of them arguing about the slow speed at which they are doling out mashed potatoes onto their plates. Or whose turn it is to fill their glasses from the milk carton. Regardless, my mood sometimes darkens, and I feel myself striding purposefully with clenched fists into my own Funnel Cakeville. In these moments, I have heard someone who sounds like me say something about how I don’t think my sons’ miserable behavior would be any different if I were merely a sperm donor or if I were in prison during their childhoods (or both). This provocative statement–intended to shock my kids back into appreciation or submission or obedience or at least into some state where my wife and I can actually enjoy their company–it no longer works. So recently, I upped my game. Much to my chagrin as I type these words, I have suggested things along the lines of, “Hey, you know, you guys should really appreciate these family dinners when we are all together. If your mother and I ever decided to get divorced….” I let this sentence trail off, after deploying a higher note with the word “divorced,” maybe even an octave above my normal speaking tone, to enhance the effect. For a time, I thought this new admonition was having its desired impact. But then I learned that Everett was recently overheard whispering from his room at night into my older son’s room, “Hey, Max, do you know what it means if Mom and Dad get a divorce? Two Christmases!!”
As I move past 50, and the realities of spending that amount of time on this earth continue to make themselves known to me, I will be on the lookout for more Funnel Cakes, Lazy Inventions, and Double Christmases. And I hope you will too.
Thanks for reading.