You’re a baby and you see toddlers walking and riding trikes and playing; you want to be a toddler.
You’re a toddler and you see the preschoolers going to preschool, they have friends and play games and have fun; you want to be a preschooler.
You’re a preschooler and you see the kindergartners going to “real school” and they’re so big and get to learn so many things and play on a bigger playground; you want to be a kindergartner.
You’re a kindergartner and you see the grade school kids go into classrooms and learn to read and do math and stay at school with their friends all day; you want to be a grade schooler.
You’re a grade schooler and you see the middle school kids. They’re so cool and fashionable and worldly; you can’t wait to be a middle school kid.
Middle school is sheer hell; you can’t wait to get to high school.
High school is much harder than it looked and you have to deal with adult emotions and relationships and responsibility before you’re really emotionally ready for it. You just want to grow up enough to deal with all this. College will be better.
College is stressful, you feel a little unprepared and overwhelmed, it isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, and you still don’t feel emotionally ready to deal with adulthood plus the workload of college, and now there’s money to worry about, too. Graduation and a career job will be so much better.
Finding a job is really hard. Finding a job in your field of study is even harder. The student loans are due, friendships are harder to maintain now that everyone is grown up and working full time, trying to pay off student loans and make their way. Some friends are married already, some have pets they treat like children, some have children they treat like pets. How are we ready for all this? Your relationship is serious, but is it real? Is it right? Is this the one? How do you know?
You’re sick to death of your job, all you want is a new boss, new responsibilities, something interesting, some growth, some challenge. Your relationship has endured and even taken on a life of its own. It isn’t joyful but it seems to work, like the path of least resistance, it isn’t “bad”, so don’t try to fix it, or break it. If only you didn’t have so many personal and financial responsibilities, you’d quit all of it and go backpacking across Europe for a year. Or two. Friends have done that, they survived, why can’t you just do something crazy like that?
Seems like marriage is the next logical step. The career is going well, mind numbingly well. There seems to be only enough time to work, eat dinner, maybe fall asleep in front of TV and go to bed for a brief spell before starting all over again tomorrow morning. It’ll all pay off if you work harder, it’s all about making progress.
Married now. Got that to pay off, too. Career continues to grow, oh so slowly, like watching grass grow, but in super slow-mo. You thought you’d be so much further ahead, you thought this was what you were working for all this time, but everything is only partially paid for. We want kids, now, while we’re young enough.
Baby is here, so blessed! It’ll be cool when baby is a toddler and can do more than giggle, coo, eat and poo. Blessed, though, so blessed. Going to work is hard. You’re really, really tired. Blessed, but tired.
Another baby. The first is now a toddler, thought we’d better have another before the first was so old. Makes sense to get the diaper and drooling thing over, once and for all, as quickly as possible. Can you imagine how terrific life will be when they’re both put of diapers? Still feel blessed. More exhausted now. Work is just there, you’ll get the career back on track once your regain consciousness, again.
One in preschool one in school, two time schedules, two drops offs, two pickups. You wonder how you accomplish work, commute, drop off, pick up, dinner, TV, and sleep all in a 24-hour recurring nightmare. You live for weekends, except they end up being an endless parade of Costco trips, themed birthday parties and yard work. You miss college. You miss your friends, you miss the person you married, you miss you and the only friends you ever see are parents of other kids at cheesy themed birthday parties. You don’t ever want to eat store bought birthday cake frosting again. Or cake, for that matter. It’ll be better when both kids are grade schoolers.
Soccer and T-ball and karate and cheerleading and softball and swim lessons and math tutors. Your childhood was so simple by comparison, you’d really like to go back! You drive a big, unstylish car and it’s full of Goldfish and Cheerios and empty, sticky Capri Sun pouches, which, by the way, you’re out of, time to go to Costco again. Is it Sunday already? How did that happen? It’ll be easier when the kids are in high school and can drive themselves.
How do you parent teenagers? They’re so difficult to deal with, moody, angry, sullen, always right, always questioning authority. You love them, of course, but they’re really so much needier than you ever remember being, so much needier than they realize they are, so vulnerable, really. You thought it was hard when you were a teenager, this is a whole different world. Life was simple then, God, you wish you could go back.
College applications, SAT scores and unlikely scholarships. How did that happen? You groomed those kids in every sport, knowing a full ride, athletic scholarship was the only way college for two would be anywhere near affordable. There is the meager college savings, but even that pales compared to what’s necessary. It all came so fast. It seems like you “just” paid off your student loans, and now there will be a whole new batch of student loans. How can an education possibly cost so much, and is it really worth it? How far have you gotten with your college education, not as far as you hoped. But once the nest is empty you can focus on your career again, make some real headway in the decade or so before retirement.
The nest is empty. This is weird. You don’t even know your spouse, it’s like living with a stranger, like starting all over, in an arranged marriage. You miss the kids, you wish they were little again, those were the good days. Your old friends are going through the same thing, the ones that are still alive, God, and some are so ill, and others are alone, divorced, addicted. Life is so precious, it’s hard, so hard, but fleeting and precious. You feel incredibly mortal. Incredibly vulnerable, more helpless at times than when you were an infant. It’ll get better when retirement comes, the just reward for the hard-working, prudent average American.
Skydiving! You felt alive for ten minutes. You can’t believe you just squandered three hundred bucks.
The resort vacations are disappointing; paying all that money to just sit around and drink, in a slightly nicer climate. You can sit and drink at home and get better TV. What a waste of time and money, but it’s what all your friends are doing. You still wonder about backpacking across Europe. Do people your age do that? Do you care? You wish you had the guts.
The gold watch, no pension, an anemic portfolio, and a retirement account that doesn’t even cover the debt amassed from the kids’ college. Volatility of real estate values and skyrocketing healthcare keeps you awake at night, there’s a pill for that. The copays on your prescriptions alone are staggering. You worry about the kids, they are struggling getting their careers off the ground, it is so competitive out there, and with a young family, how do they find the time, money and energy for all that. It was so much simpler when you were raising your family. The worry is suffocating, day and night. There’s a pill for that, too. It’ll be better when the grandkids are older.
The grandkids are headed for college. How do the kids afford all that? The house, the car, the bills, spousal support, therapy, and their lifestyle? You don’t understand their fast-paced, fractured, fragmented and technology dependent lives. All of their friendships and business dealing seem to be contained in a small device permanently clutched in their hand, persistently distracting them from conversation, from the moment at hand. You look into their eyes and catch a glimpse of sheer terror, theirs? Or was it a reflection of your own expression? You feel more mortal than ever, but you wonder how they’ll get by without you. You long for simpler times, you think about the past, when you aren’t worrying about the future. You wish you were a child again. Life was so simple. Where did your life go?
Or did life ever even happen? You were waiting for it to begin for half your life, and mourning its passage the second half. Ah, but, is that life? Or is it not? There is still time, though you never know how much. Grab that backpack and a Eurailpass, quick, before you talk yourself out of it! Life begins with the next breath! You only need to learn that, and breathe.
Life is in each moment, each precious, each unique. Every moment is a new beginning, if you only wish it to be. The moment you decide to live, to embrace that moment, you shall. Live your life. Now.