Friday, December 16, 2011

Road Blocks and Speed Bumps

When we are babies our bodies change visibly every single day, new teeth, longer hair, another shoe size, or larger diapers. One day we can walk under the dining room table without even noticing it is there and the next we bang our foreheads into it. We tip over, fall over, and tumble down stairs. We fall out of and off of anything we are on or in. We stick wet fingers into electrical sockets, put pennies and rocks into our mouths and beads up our nose, stand on high chair trays, pull clothing racks on top of ourselves while hiding under them and watching mom and dad have screaming panic attacks looking for us. Our parents are our road block at this stage, something to get around or under while we stumble and roll through life. We are just learning how to use all of our parts and they keep changing on us. It is a miracle anyone learns everything at all.

Change and growth slow down to a manageable speed when we are learning how to be daring. Mother nature reigns herself in long enough for us to develop courage and grace and speed and a desire to succeed. Riding bikes, skateboarding, skiing, gymnastics, horse back riding, jumping, running, sliding and skating are all approached with an incredible verve and abandon. Danger is something we understand intellectually only. We fall, tumble, take a spill, crash, wipe out, and take a header. Bruises, Charlie-horses, knocks and dings, strawberries, casts and missing teeth are worn like badges of honor. Our bodies heal like magic. Broken bones? No problem, we are back riding that bike with our cast on in a week or less. We shake our heads at parent’s admonitions to be careful, slow down, wear a helmet or just plain don’t do it because we are going to get hurt. How bad can something be when the worst pain can be tolerated with the help of a new Sponge Bob episode or a visit from our very best friend? Our parents are still trying to be road blocks but in reality are more like speed bumps. We run them over with our enthusiasm, our youth and our promises to be careful. We chuckle behind their backs, sneering at their concerns and fears. We are young and we are invincible.

Late adolescence and young adulthood are a whole other story. While most of us give up the things that caused contusions, sub dermal hematomas and lacerations we find new ways to test our body and judge our skills. We are seriously just getting to a point when we know our bodies and we start screwing with them! Alcohol, pot, uppers, downers, acid and other mind altering substances become the new thrill. It takes years to realize that while we are not covered in bandages and held together with stitches we are still doing incredible harm to ourselves. Vomiting, headaches, sleepless nights and comatose days, dangerous sex, loneliness, confusion and paranoia are the order of the day. We say that we must have had a good time because we can’t remember it and remember when we… whatever. The ‘remember when’s’ happen because we are so busy destroying ourselves that the past becomes a beacon for us, for a time we knew what we wanted, when reaching the top of that tree or jumping off that garage was a worthwhile goal and we succeeded at it. Our parents try calling us, stopping by, taking us to lunch at work. We accept this love as a burden we must bear in order to get help when we can’t make the rent or our hearts are broken yet again by the obviously wrong person. We use and abuse them and they keep coming back for more which makes us respect them even less.

Sometime in our early thirties (or for those of us that are a little slow, our forties) we wake up and realize we feel like shit. Our hair is dry, we have bags under our eyes we could pack a wardrobe in, our faces are booze swollen and our hands are shaky. We have stopped progressing at work and our love life is unsatisfying. Our parents, long since having given up on telling us to be careful are happier and more successful than we are. Like a switch flipping and a light coming on we realize we have to slow down before it all goes to hell. We rededicate ourselves to work, to finding someone to settle down permanently with. If we have children we find ourselves telling them to be careful, they could hurt themselves. School, which we suffered through, becomes enormously important for our progeny. We allow them to do all of the crazy physical things we did at the appropriate ages and warn them off of all of the things we wish we hadn’t done early and often. Sometime during this period we have a slow realization that we have, indeed, become our parents. It is disheartening. It makes us feel OLD for a while and then we realize that our parents did ok, they aren’t total ogres and there are a lot of role models that are worse than they are. Our parents can actually become our friends during this period if we let them.

It only takes us forty or fifty years but we finally reach a point where we are content if not the ephemeral ‘happy’. We are making good money and have the respect if not the admiration of our peers and subordinates. Our love life has settled into a comfortable pattern, if not with one person that with serial monogamy. With the help of Advil and Motrin we can still get out on the weekends and do something physical, like snorkel or hike or ride bikes with the wife in the park. Our parents are either wildly self sufficient and intent on doing everything for your children that they were too smart to do for you, or, in sadder situations, your responsibility. You are now their road block, their speed bump, and the person who allows themselves to be used and abused by the crafty old geezers they have become. Your children run rampant. Whether trying to kill themselves with dangerous physical activity or drinking and dancing the night away before an important presentation which will make or break their whole career  they are the only thing that still causes you true concern. You almost look forward to the ‘I need rent money’ or ‘Can I eat at your house tonight’ phone calls because you can see them and judge the state of their decline and in turn the amount of worrying you must do.

Before you know it, in the mere blink of an eye, you are the old geezer worrying your children to death. You either bring home a mini-bike for the 11 year old bookish grandchild or accidentally drink bleach because it is in an orange glass and it might be juice. You are now prescribed pills you would have paid good money for in your twenties but they don’t do what they are supposed to do, much less make you feel like you aren’t falling apart. You look back at your contented grown children and wonder that they made it that far without killing themselves. You wonder how they bore children so smart and pleasant when they were horrid, ignoring you at best, sneering at you at their worst. You finally, sadly, realize what a gift your body, your family, your life here is when it seems all but over. If you have twenty years left (it seems like an immeasurable space of time for a child but it races by as an adult) you need more. It simply isn’t enough to appreciate what God or fate or a random confluence of matter, time and space have given you.