Newsletter 129: The Downside of Enjoying Your Twenties Is Being Too Old For Your Children
I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from October 2018. It’s one of the better ones we’ve run. Though I always worry it scared Tom Scocca.
Tom Scocca is such a brilliant writer and editor that I’m actively intimidated by him. I mean this in an actual physical sense: When he worked at Deadspin — in the years after I left — I used to stutter and stammer when I saw him when I’d stop by the office. He’s perhaps most famous for his On Smarm piece from 2013, as well as the only Gawker obit that mattered; he’s been around so long that Daulerio interviewed him for The Black Table back in 2004. Part of growing up is accepting the realization that even though you have dedicated your life to doing something you love for a living, there are other people have done the same thing that are simply better at it than you are. Tom Scocca helped lead me to this acceptance.
But he wrote a piece this week that still has me wrecked. It’s titled “Your Real Biological Clock Is You’re Going To Die,” on his new site Hmm Daily. You should click that link and read it right now. The basic premise of the piece is that as one gets older as a parent, and you start moving through the actuarial tables of years and lifespans around, it becomes increasingly clear that every year you waited not to have a child was not a year of “figuring yourself out” … it was one less year you got to spend with your children. We kid ourselves about how much time we have, how much we can cram in. But we can’t fit in all of it, not by a long shot. Here’s the killer kicker:
This world devours every person and moves on. It does not stop moving, even as we pass through the middle of life telling ourselves it is the front end. Before the children arrived, there was not much difference from one year to the next. In some ways, in the adult, professional sphere, there still is not much difference. In a chair, at a computer screen, 47 doesn’t feel that far from 37. A little trouble in the lumbar region, that’s all. Some wiry gray at the temples in the bathroom mirror.
This is the illusion of adult timekeeping, and children make it unsustainable. Life moves along at an unexceptional, unexamined pace and suddenly it’s the first day of school, and then it’s the first day of school again. The jeans I remember just buying him are up above the ankles. The younger boy kisses me back when I kiss him good night, but by last year the older boy started to twist away from holding hands a few yards before the school door, to dart off ahead. Now he just walks to school on his own. There’s time still for him to circle back for a hug at day’s end. Someday, though, a hug will be the last one.
This is a sadder, more profound way of something I tried to get at in “Are We Winning?” my most recent book, from the age that I wrote and published books that will hopefully return someday. If you’ve ever read that book — and you should buy it if you haven’t, while it’s still in print! — you might remember a scene where my father and I are on the roof of my old apartment building in Brooklyn, having a conversation that initially about baseball but turns into an increasingly surreal discussion about the very point of being alive. (It’s inspired by the Q&A in “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” when Dave Eggers takes an interview with him by a producer on “The Real World” and spins it off into a devastating look at grief and loss.) The point my father (or “my father,” since he turns into a fictional narrative mouthpiece halfway through the conversation) is trying to make in this section is that while he is envious of the years I spent figuring myself out and building my career and life in New York, and thus waiting until I was 36 years old to have my first child, are going to cost me on the back end.
Here are those pages. I’m probably breaking a copyright here, but hey, it’s my book.
I wrote that before I had any children at all, before I was even married. But it’s that same premise: This shit goes by faster than you think. I’m extremely fortunate that, eight years after this book was published, my dad is still here, and both of my children know and love him.
Will I get the same opportunity with my own grandchildren someday? I am not certain.
As you could tell from last week’s newsletter, I have become rather obsessed with the passage of time of late. The person I was in 2006 is not the same person I am now … except of course he is. We evolve and progress and regress and shave off some rough edges, but we are still us, the same chemistries, the same desires, the same fears, the same sometimes-overpowering emotions. We learn about ourselves, we make mistakes, we find things that enrapture us, we make some breakfast, we have weeks where we can’t shake this damned cold, we spend a few days binging television, we fly to visit old friends and family, we complain about our jobs, we drink some coffee, we stare at the news and cry, we fall asleep on the couch when we really didn’t want to just because some weeks it’s just too goddamned much. Life just keeps sprinting past. It’s just that while all that stuff is happening, years are going by — a non-renewable resource is being expended. You don’t realize how quickly this all passes by until it does. You wonder how it all went away so fast. You wonder what it was that just flew by you, that you totally missed, and is now gone forever.
It makes you want to appreciate the rare moments in your life that break that pattern, that leap out at you and demand that you slow down, that you drink them in, that they are savored. Those moments of … magic. They can be fleeting and harder to pin down, but when they happen, we have to not let them pass lightly. These are the pivot moments. There are whole years from my life that I do not remember anything that happened during them. 1998? 2012? 1989? Couldn’t pin down one thing from any of them. That’s sort of terrifying, right? A whole year out of your life, a life that only gets a finite number of them, that you have no lasting memories of whatsoever. It makes you want to take those moments of magic, those ones where the world just stops and smiles at you for a second, and lock them into place. One of the strangest, cruelest tricks about being alive is that you more you do it, the less you appreciate it … even though every second brings you closer to it all being gone. We miss magic all the time. We’re missing it right now.
Living in the present has always been a challenge to me. I’m always obsessing over the past or trying to plan too far ahead in the future. Just simply sitting in the current moment is the most important thing a person can do, and I’m really bad at it. No matter what happens the rest of my life, at some point, I’m going to look back at this moment right now and think, “I wish I would have appreciated that more.” Even though I could totally just do that right now. I am, after all, already here.
But I’m working on it. If I may be frank with you for a moment, I’ve actually been going through a difficult few weeks over here, just trying to figure out my place in the world at this particular point in history, what I can do to help, what I can do to make the world better, what I personally need to be happy, what I’ve been missing that I know that I need. These are ongoing questions for any human, but I’ve always kept myself distracted with work and schedules and minutiae to really look hard about what might be lacking. And I think that has only made it harder on myself and the people around me. I’ve been spending so much time focused on whether things are going to ultimately be OK, or what things I might have lost along the way, that I haven’t taken much time to look at how things are right now. I’ve been particularly feeling the brunt of this lately.
That’s the goal, though, isn’t it? To live in the here and now, not to spend all our hours worrying about aging timetables, or a crumbling planet, or what we’ve lost, or what we desperately wish we could have but know we cannot. I cannot change what has happened. And I cannot affect the future. All I can do is be in this moment. To drink it in. To be near to and be supportive of my kids. To be good to the people in my life. To be honest and open about who I am and what I need and what I have to offer the world. To … live. I can think about what I don’t have forever. The trick is to remember and appreciate what I do. Because someday that’ll be gone too. Someday a hug will be the last one.