The answer year
by Jon Worley
Twenty-four years ago, I was finishing up my first year of college, my middle brother was a summer removed from his senior year of high school and my youngest brother was slogging through the end of eighth grade.
That was the year my parents turned 42.
As I arrive at my "answer" year (as anyone who is even slightly conversant with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy knows is 42), it's rather astonishing to me to see how different my life is than my parents.
My wife and I got started with the critter-making later. We have one son who is eight years away from college (a somewhat frightening thought, to be honest) and another that is wrapping up first grade. When we lived in Durham, N.C, we were among the older first-time parents that we knew. When we moved up here inside the Beltway, we were on the younger side.
In many ways, the easiest benchmark for your progress as an adult is to compare yourself with your parents. But at this point, there's simply no way to do that. Other than the fact that my brothers and I are relatively well-adjusted and haven't even been tempted to return home after college--a behavior I fully expect my boys to follow--my parents and I have lived very different lives. I lived in six cities in five states within three time zones growing up--a total of ten domiciles in all, if my accounting is correct. My sons have lived in two houses in two cities in two states within one time zone, and I don't expect that number to rise significantly in the next few years. While my wife and I moved a lot in the first five years after we graduated from college, we've settled into a more stable lifestyle. Hell, this year we've even joined a pool for the summer. How's that for petit bourgeois?
But I guess I've gotten old enough that I no longer question my credentials as an adult. I may look somewhat young for 42, but that means some folks think I might be only 39. Maybe. There are plenty of people who think I'm at least 45. I haven't been carded when buying beer in decades. Some younger riders on the Metro say things like "Excuse me, sir," rather than "Sorry, dude," when crashing into me after yet another herky-jerky arrival at a station. On occasion, parents of younger kids actually ask me for parenting advice.
I suppose I'm entering the dreaded middle age, but I don't feel so bad about that. My back gets sore now and again, but I've figured out a few things I can do to take care of that. I still wear the same waist size jeans I did when I got out of college, though now I'm more likely to go for the relaxed fit. I still vote reliably Democratic, except when I move down to the Communist Workers Party entry on the ballot. I mean, I'm not old enough to vote Republican or anything.
But I am, of course. My older son is convinced that I'm hopelessly out of touch--and he's right. I don't try to be cool, and I know that I'm not. Especially to a ten-year-old. My seven-year-old remains convinced that I can do almost anything, but lately he's been figuring out that the old man is just that. Turns out I can't throw three hours of batting practice anymore. At least, I can't if I expect to be able to use my left arm the next day. Jamie Moyer I'm not.
But that's alright. A good chunk of wisdom is recognizing your limitations and maximizing your efforts within them. I may not be wise, but I'm beginning to come to terms with the things that I can't do.
I guess "42" is as good an answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything as there is. I'll give it a spin this year and report back as necessary.
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