Over the holidays, I was at my sister’s place. The youngest generation was racing about the house screaming “Not in the face!” as they shot each other with foam projectiles launched from colorful plastic rifles.
Their older cousins sat with the adults, eating hors d’oeuvres and chatting about finding apartments, landing jobs, and otherwise filling out their futures. What a change, I thought. I remember these people as newborns. Now they’re on the verge of adulthood and talking about things I’ve done myself. And for a second I felt relevant. But only a second. Next I felt old, a feeling that was much less quick to pass.
My future, unlike theirs, is not a blank page. I left college 20 years ago and have been in the same line of work ever since. Rent I no longer pay because I have this other thing called a mortgage. And while I do give a lot of thought to how I want to live, I am aware that with three kids and a well-chosen spouse, I have already placed some major bets.
I retain many fresh-seeming memories of my twenties, but there’s a good bit of stuff that happened after that decade and before the period I think of as, well, now. So, I cannot really be young, except in the not-true metaphorical sense.
Recently, I mentioned to a new acquaintance something that had happened to me around the age of 30. “And that was, like, what, two years ago?” she said with friendly sarcasm. Naturally, I took offense.
It doesn’t happen a lot, but over the summer I was definitely distracted by my age. We had taken in a baseball player who was a pitcher in the local college all-star summer league.
Before he arrived, I made so many jokes about my wife Cynthia fawning over the handsome young jock in our midst. Oh, do you need a fresh towel? I had her saying, as she flung herself about the house, starry-eyed and eager to please. Which isn’t at all like Cynthia, but never mind.
Once I met him, however, the jokes no longer made sense. He was a total innocent. He drank milk by the gallon. When he was going to be late, he would text my wife sheepish messages to let her know. He played with our kids, winding up his southpaw with a wiffle ball to the howls of my boys before releasing slow fat ones right over the plate.
It occurred to me that he was closer in age to my children than he was to me. I once broached conversation by asking him about the average number of pitches he threw in a start, then instantly regretted it, realizing how dorky this sounded. He didn’t actually call me “Sir,” but I could tell he was thinking it.
For a few weeks the pitcher slept in our basement, which also happens to be where we watch television and keep all the children’s toys. On the whole, Cynthia and I tried to discourage use of the downstairs while he was boarding with us. But our boys—especially the older one, Ben—could not be kept away from the pitcher or his things.
Ben is 8 years old and, incidentally, one person I can count on not to think of me as middle-aged. A while back, I took him to a park with some tennis courts. We practiced together, and then I told him to go hit against a wall while I worked on my serve. But he refused, yelling, “You just want to practice by yourself so you can become a big famous tennis player, and you won’t play with me because you don’t want me to become a famous tennis player.”
He is wide-eyed about growing up, almost as much as he is confused by it. Recently he asked us to buy him deodorant—Old Spice, to be exact. Where had this come from? It turned out that Old Spice was the brand our pitcher wore. Being killjoys, Cynthia and I told Ben he didn’t need deodorant. Undeterred, he bought some on his own, with saved-up allowance money, and began wearing it. “For the commanding man,” the label says.
No amount of joshing would make Ben rethink his decision. Instead he answered his critics by marching around the house with his elbows high in the air and his underarms exposed, saying, “Smell my wrath.”
It’s a line usually associated with another kind of body odor. I know some very good parents who would have taken corrective action at this point, but not me. Fart humor, like childhood itself, is timeless, which must explain my weakness for it.