Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Kids and Grownups

“None of us are as strong or brave as the children we used to be.” — Peter Straub

There are times when my friend Karen wants to be a kid again: safe, protected, the focus of a lot of adult care and attention, without the responsibilities adults have to face. Nevertheless, she shoulders her responsibilities and deals with them — with occasional breaks for playfulness.

Even in my wildest dreams I can’t imagine childhood in those terms. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an adult — no, that’s not accurate. I thought of myself as old and battered, a scarred veteran walking among the fresh-faced innocents. Even when I was spending time with people a dozen years older than I was, I never took on the cute little kid persona. That is not in my repertoire. For me childhood meant having crushing responsibility with no power — meant protecting the grownups, protecting my sisters, dealing with things that were unbearable but had to be borne.

One unpleasant side effect of this is that I’ve always tended to emphasize how old I am. This must have been mildly amusing when I was in my early twenties and feeling elderly. At 43, though, I think it’s time to end it. Not because I haven’t been through vast quantities of garbage, but because I ought to have figured out by now that chronological age hasn’t got a bloody thing to do with that. It’s obnoxious, it’s embarrassing, let it end.

Yes, I do feel old sometimes when people a dozen years younger than I am talk about TV shows I’ve never seen, or music I’ve never heard of — but given that I was never particularly plugged into that aspect of pop culture, that’s OK. I love the music I love, and I am always open to listening to new music. I acquired what I know of pop culture between about 18 and 38. Then people started dying and I turned away from keeping up with every new movie. There wasn’t energy for that any more.

Oddly, I never felt that age would deprive me of anything I wanted. I don’t obsess over wrinkles and gray hairs — having stayed out of the sun, determinedly pale and geeky, I don’t have many wrinkles yet, and the few gray hairs are covered by hair dye anyway. (Redheads have more fun.) I’ve never feared that turning 30 or 35 or 40 would deprive me sexually. Now, well ensconced in my 40s, I definitely don’t feel deprived.

“I’ve been an evil freakin’ diva for forty years — now I have to go somewhere and knit!” — Cher, contemplating retirement

Well, no. Now you get to be an old evil diva. You get to be powerful, sexual, strong. I much prefer another Cher quotation, what she reportedly said when she first spotted the bagel-store clerk she lived with for years: “I want him. Have him stripped and washed and sent to my tent.” Now that’s an attitude.

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