We live in a neighborhood that serves as the main off-campus housing stock for the University of Texas. I find comfort being around the students. They make me feel the same hope for the future as I do when I hold a baby. About two-thirds of our short dead-end street is college rentals. I’m surrounded by migrating herds of twenty-something-year-olds which is not to be confused with feeling like a twenty-year-old.
We have a kitchen window above our sink that faces an identical window in the rental house across the fence. My window seems too small and high for me to bother with a curtain. The prior over-the-fence tenants always had theirs covered. The young childless couple that moved in has pushed the curtains to the sides.
Our schedules are different. We are rarely at our windows at the same time so our curtain game of chicken has been a benign exercise. Yesterday our separate universes collided. I looked up and caught them in an early morning embrace at the sink. I couldn’t make myself look away until they saw me. I plunged my gaze into the sudsy dishwater but looked up again. It wasn’t the sweet embrace that had me mesmerized, it was a nostalgia for a freedom I had forgotten that drew my eyes back.
People my age and older are always saying that they feel the same on the inside as they did when they were twenty. They obviously are not around herds of twenty-something-year-olds. My insides don’t feel twenty and the couple next door made it screamingly apparent. For one moment I felt, not just remembered, the scene I was witnessing – the simplicity of worrying just about yourself. When I was twenty I didn’t register this time-specific freedom, but I do now.
My almost-20-year-old man/teen son is even greater proof that I do not feel twenty on the inside. He is home for the summer after his freshman year at college. He is too old to be under our roof and too young to know how to make plans that are based on more than a belief that everything will work out. As he awaits an epiphany, he is happy to sleep, hang out with his brother, help me and ride his bike.
It kills me to watch him loaf. I have the industriousness of a Daughter of the American Revolution New Englander. I worked summer jobs from the time I was thirteen. Leo is caught in the golden handcuffs of a full academic scholarship. There is a part of him that thinks it gives him an excuse to just let things unfold. He has discovered that not much unfolds without a plan.
Leo believes that he can duct-tape a summer together with foolhardiness, a backpack, a ticket to Bonnaroo and what’s left of his Texas Tomorrow Fund moneys. For him that is a recipe for happiness. I’m not saying I can’t experience spontaneity and wonder as an almost-fifty-year-old parent to four kids but my happiness is far more rooted in other people’s survival and well being. I have a friend with four kids who says that she can never be happier than her least happy kid. This is something that a twenty-year-old can not understand.
What has changed my insides are the four kids I have on the outside. Once I had kids the twenty-something part of my brain was wiped clean and a parenting app was installed. Even on the days that I want to run away I begin my getaway plan with a grocery list for what the kids will need while I’m gone. About halfway through, I realize that I can’t leave until I finish the alphabetical master list of where everything is located. It just wouldn’t be fair.
I was much more like Leo when I was twenty. Around him I see the aura of mania and fearlessness glowing from his seemingly endless youth. That feeling is not mine anymore nor should Leo understand my responsibilities. He has the space to make spastic decisions and fork-in-the-road mistakes. There is more room for him to roam. I had my turn and I played hard. I don’t want to feel twenty again. I have lived my way into feeling fifty.
I have the perfect illustration of the difference between a twenty-something and a almost-fifty-something’s insides. Leo left the two new suits I bought him over spring break on the bus when he returned to college. He announced the loss with a shrug when I picked him up at the airport at the beginning of summer. I forgave him readily. In contrast Leo gave me endless grief for not knowing the whereabouts of his air soft guns and pellets. I asked him to ponder his his suit-less state of being while on his high horse. He grinned a touché grin and said that he had expected more from me. After all I am supposed to know where everything is.
Let me say it again, I do not feel twenty on the inside.
E, great writing! Love your essay. I know a lot of parents who could totally relate.
I smile every time I read, “I have lived my way into feeling fifty.” It is now my new mantra. Thanks, Elizabeth! Keep writing…we’ll keep reading.