On Growing Older

I turn 31 years old on Tuesday.

I was perfectly OK with hitting 30 last year. It felt like an important occasion. I was ready to start a new decade, a new season of life. Ready to be a Grown-Up.

Thirty-one is different. There’s none of the shiny novelty of a milestone year with a nice round zero at the end. There’s no peeking over my shoulder at the 20s, either. I’ve got both feet firmly planted in my 30s now. Barely four years left in that precious 18-to-34 demographic that advertisers and message-makers covet; four more years and no one will care what deodorant I’m wearing or what TV shows I’m watching. I’ll be practically irrelevant. I will be old.

I’m being facetious, of course. But getting older is a funny thing. Our culture has always been youth-obsessed, but it seems like more than ever people are either reluctant to grow up or unsure how to do it. What sells at the movies right now? For the ladies, there are vampires eternally stuck in high school. For the gents, Judd Apatow-style comedies starring man-children with the emotional depth of 12-year-olds.

It’s hard to grow older with grace. We fear becoming out-of-touch, uncool. (Though if we’re honest, we were probably never as cool as we thought we were in the first place.) But we’re not vampires—we can’t pull off the eternal youth thing. For example, who can take Snoop Dogg seriously anymore? He seemed incredibly cool l when I was in Grade 9, but that now he’s still rapping about the same things in his 40s, it’s like he’s a caricature of himself.

Maybe that’s one of the signs I’m getting old—I hardly ever listen to rap anymore. I did buy the new Roots album a few weeks ago, but The Roots have always been kind of like  ‘intelligent rap for old people,’ so they don’t really count.

There are other surefire signs that I’m entering a “new phase of maturity,” shall we say:

– I have gone to bed before 10 p.m. on a Friday night. More than once. This month.

– I have politely but firmly asked a teenager in a McDonald’s to watch his language.

– I can hardly name any of the songs on the radio these days. They all sound the same: dance beat, cookie-cutter synths, autotuned vocals, guest verse from one of the same six rappers. Doesn’t anybody play a real dadgum instrument anymore?

See—I’m practically a curmudgeon.

But I’m OK with aging. There are things I miss sometimes, of course—things you give up when you sign on to raising four kids and paying bills and living the suburban dream—like staying out till 4 a.m. or playing video games for seven hours straight, living with a certain measure of spontaneity. But now I’m less restless than my 20-year-old self (most days). I take myself way less seriously. I think I’m actually healthier: I eat better, exercise more, and weigh less than I did at 23 or 24. I’m more likely to savour little moments of joy.

And being a dad  allows me to be young too. I can play with Lego and watch DuckTales. I can run around in the rain and sing entire conversations. I have total permission to be ridiculous. Tonight at bedtime I taught the boys the meaning of the word “defenestrate,” which they thought was the funniest thing ever. By the end of story time we were all laughing until we had hiccups. It didn’t exactly help them settle down and fall asleep, but it was one of the highlights of my day.

So I’m happy to be 31. I get the best of both worlds: I get the wisdom that comes with experience and the joy of watching my kids discover new wonders everyday. That in itself is a wonder to me. I think the key to aging well is simply to look forward with hope and remember that there are always new things to discover, and new beauty to uncover in old things. I love this quote from Marilynne Robinson’s impossibly gorgeous novel Gilead:

Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?

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2 responses to “On Growing Older

  1. Gotta know how you taught them the meaning of “defenestrate” — I assume it was a demonstration that didn’t physically involve anything alive….

    And yes, it’s a cool word. My sons love it too. Not that we’ve defenestrated anything lately, but I remember the story about Ray Bradbury and a typewriter. (Guess that makes me a senior curmudgeon.)

  2. Ha. There was no physical demonstration, but of course I quickly realized it wasn’t a good idea to introduce the word at bedtime, because of course they’d WANT a physical demonstration.

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