The Perfect Age
When my son was six and about to turn seven, he confessed that he didn’t want to become seven because it seemed like too much work. Even though adults tend to view all of childhood as easy and fun, I knew what he meant. Seven was the end of first grade and the beginning of second grade with real homework. I told him that every age has good parts and bad parts. I reminded him that when he was only five, that he didn’t have homework, but he wasn’t old enough to play on a soccer team yet and he couldn’t have sleep overs. I think that made him feel better.
We tend as humans to imagine that another time in our lives was or will be easier. When my husband and I were 35, we bought our first home and it needed a lot of renovations. When we looked at the endless work and costs ahead of us, I do confess that I wished that I was 25 again. After all, at that age, I didn’t own anything, except a used electric piano and a cheap bed, and I wasn’t married. I didn’t have to deal with picking out china patterns or pleasing in-laws. I had a job but it wasn’t a career yet. It didn’t matter, because I was only 25. And yet, I remember distinctly the year before when I turned 24, I cried off and on through the day, because I realized that the doors of childhood had shut behind me. I wasn’t in college, I wasn’t living at home, I had to support myself completely, and the world was not the sweet, supportive world of my childhood; I was on my own.
It’s so easy for us to believe that whatever age we are right now or whatever stage of life we’re experiencing is not as easy as a previous time, or maybe a future time. Maybe we wish we were back in school and didn’t have work obligations, or not married and carefree, or with grown kids so we didn’t have the day to day stress of parenting. I’m fortunate as a parent and life coach to have witnessed most decades at this point, and each has its pluses and minuses. My kids have loved being kids, but even little kids want to be big kids, until they are about 12 and then they are desperate to hold on to some of childhood. Joni Mitchell wrote in her gorgeous song, The Circle Game, “And they tell you take your time, it won’t be long now, before you drag your feet just to slow the circles down.” Among my high school clients, they are desperate to have the simplicity of childhood and to escape all the pressures and expectations of getting into college. College students feel pressure even more acutely, now that college is so expensive. The days of lying on the grass and reading old Victorian poems for the fun of it are gone. Parents want business degrees and results and students are staggering under the weight of student loans and pressure to get a great job to justify their degree.
My clients in their twenties struggle with finding love in an era of Tinder, which is a “dating” app– you swipe right or left, depending on whether you want to meet that stranger. (Note: this is not the path to long term love, but rather short term sex.) They are trying to find themselves, pay off debt, deal with roommates, adjust to the stress of their first real job with demanding bosses and travel, and learning all the boring rites of adulthood, like insurance and mortgages and investment strategies. Clients in their thirties realize that the minute they turn 30, people expect them to be married. And for women, their ovaries are open for discussion, since the pressure is now on for having kids before it’s too late. For clients in their forties and fifties, as well as many friends, it’s a mad dash against the clock to attend to work, kids, home repairs, and investing. For those who are single still, the pressure is even greater, because they feel that maybe it’s too late. And for those in their sixties and beyond, there’s a freedom for a lot of people that they didn’t have when they were younger– the kids are grown and dogs are dead– but they are dealing with health issues and money concerns and a lot more logisitics. The fact is that none of it is easy and all of it is wonderful. Turning 7 is as magical and stressful as turning 87.
We tend also to think there might be a perfect age in history that was somehow easier. But I’m reminded of the pioneer women who bore and raised children while traveling in a covered wagon, or women who were burned at the stake for being too powerful in the middle ages, or leaders like Queen Victoria, who weren’t afraid to rule, but were terrified of childbirth since so many women didn’t get through it alive. As we Americans accept, for better or worse, the passing of the guard today of American presidents, let us remember that this time in history is no easier or harder than other times. Just like personal ages we experience, it’s the same yin and yang.
As my grandfather used to say, “This too shall pass.” When we are in a particularly hard time in our lives or in history, it’s important to remember that all things change, some things for the better and some for the worse. As you connect with what your world stage is, remember to accept the age you’re in, both how old you are and where in history you are. It’s important to honor all the stages of our lives and to be present in the moment of history in which we find ourselves. And if you feel stuck or afraid, find one small way to celebrate your current age. Remember the great poet Rumi’s words: “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”