“So Owen, do you have any idea what you’d like to do after you graduate high school?”
“I don’t know. Sleep.”
This was an actual conversation that occurred in our car on the way into the 7th grade awards convocation last night between my wife and my 13-year old son. We’re winding down another school year. My son is going into the 8th grade, while my 15-year old daughter is heading into Freshman high and my oldest is graduating high school and will be attending university in August. Now that response my son gave in regards to the age-old question “What do you want to do with your life?” might have seemed flippant to me any other time, but last night it didn’t. Last night when he said “sleep” I could totally relate to that. Lately, it’s as if I can’t get enough sleep. I may sleep 7 to 8 hours a night, but the days run so raggedly and in a constant state of flux that it’s as if I’m merely power napping between commercials before the internal engine begins to rev once again and I’m off whether I like it or not.
It’s not like I’m not used to being worn out. C’mon, I’ve been raising three kids for the past nearly two decades. I know ragged, ass-dragging tired. I know that feeling that when you’re so exhausted you nearly feel sick. But this is a different kind of tired. It’s a tired that blankets mortality. It’s staring your youthfulness in the eyes and saying “Goodbye” to a part of yourself that you didn’t realize was leaving till the bags were packed and the car was running out front. When your kids go from bugging you to play Barbies or Transformers to them to asking if you can take them to a job interview. That’s a kind of tired that’s unquantifiable.
I’ve always tried to live in the moment. Worry about the now. You really have to do that when your kids are little. It’s not about three months from now or two years from now. It’s pure survival. You’re on watch 24/7 when those mini versions of yourself are running around the house with the big bad world breathing hot, fiery breath on the front door wanting to get inside and taste blood. I’ve always focused on keeping them safe, happy, and healthy right in front of me. Unfortunately living like that seems to make time move much quicker. I’ve successfully kept my children safe and alive through those ragged years of childhood(my son broke his arm when he was 6, but that was on the neighbor’s watch.) The years of falls, illnesses, getting lost at the store, drinking toilet cleaner found under the sink and wandering off from the backyard have been successful; they’ve survived to their teens. So I suppose a congratulations is in order? But in the blink of an eye I feel I’ve gone from telling my kids to stop wiping their noses with their shirt to asking what they want to do after high school in the time frame of just a summer break. It’s weird. It’s also sad, overwhelming, and I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.
It makes me want to just crawl into bed and sleep for a month.
I suppose it’s looking back and seeing that this nearly 20 year phase of my life is coming to a close that’s laid such a heavy metaphorical blanket on me. In 5 years my youngest will be graduating high school. Sure, I’m a parent until the big sleep comes. I’ll be someone’s dad until I no longer exist, but that stage of parenting where you’re directly responsible for that person’s well being is winding down. Before I know it, my son will be coming by for advice on bank loans, home maintenance, and help with his own kids. And I’ll be able to put my arm around him, look him proudly in the eyes, and say “Ask your mother.”
I guess I should be excited more than feeling the weight of change. I’m getting to that point in life where I’m not quite “old”, but just well worn in. Like a leather jacket, or a comfy pair of boxers. The point in life where at the drop of a hat the wife and I can decide to just take off for a week. Maybe we can buy an RV and hit the road. Go see the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, or watch a fireworks display off the coast of Maine. Head to Colorado, find a good place to park the Winnebago, and watch the sunrise in the Rockies with some edibles and a good cup of dark roast. Buying groceries for just two as opposed to five will be a trip. And only worrying about two tickets at the theater will be something as well. A trip to Europe is not out of the realm of possibility when the kids are grown and out of the house.
Man, I’m feeling better already. Next phase of life, here I come. Road trips, transatlantic flights, Rocky Mountain highs, ice cold Ensure and AARP discounts. Count me in. Maybe this getting old thing isn’t as bad as I thought. I mean, if you’re not getting older you’re dead. Or a vampire. Either way, you’re doomed to darkness and a coffin.
I’ve always said that I was never comfortable as a young man. I never felt like I was meant to be a strapping young lad, out painting the town red and doing things that younger adults do. I was always too awkward and sarcastic for my own good. Becoming a dad gave me a reason to be awkward and sarcastic. To lock myself into a self-made castle and stay in. That may sound a bit sad and depressing, but for me it was more like cocooning for a big change. My kids helped me realize that walling myself in isn’t the healthiest thing, but it was what I needed to be able to appreciated the next big phase of my life. That next phase? As a graying, middle-aged guy ready to hit the road with his woman(and dog) and maybe live it up a bit. See things, do things, maybe even shave my head and wear a Hawaiian shirt unironically. I think I’m ready to grab the world by the lapels and slap it around a bit.
But first, maybe a nap.