I had a conversation over the holidays with someone I don’t see very often that went like this:
Me: So, what’s new?
Him: [thinks for a while] Well, I got new track lights.
Me: That’s something! Track lighting can add a lot to a room.
Him: Actually, the tracks were already there, I just got new fixtures.
And that’s when I laughed (somewhat) hysterically. Because, right? What is new?
Life starts out as a non-stop barrage of newness. Every school year you got a new teacher, new lessons, and new classmates. You even got new teeth. Twenty or so years later, you’re out in the world getting a new job, maybe a new spouse, and/or some new kids.
Then, you seem to be in some sort of suspended animation until retirement. Which is to say, forty years of nothing new...
Excuse me while I get a brown paper bag to breathe into.
I guess an argument can be made that as a parent, your life changes as your children pass through their stages of development as you once did. Therefore, you can acquire your fresh experiences by living vicariously through them. Because, that sounds fun.
Hooray! I get to pay for my kids’ activities and equipment so I can then drive them to their various practices and meets and sit there with their unruly siblings while they get to experience something new. That’s so rewarding...
(People without kids: it isn’t rewarding.) It is awesome for them. I am happy for them. I want them to suck out all the marrow of life*. But, when do I get to suck marrow? Is my time up?
Nope. I’m not dead.
Just as I talk with my kids about whether they are interested in playing soccer, dancing, learning to play the drums, taking swim lessons or tennis lessons, those choices are available to me too.
A few years ago, my sister took up horseback riding. My initial reaction: but, but, but.... wait, you can do that? Yes. She’s doing it. She loves it. She takes her daughter to the barn, and they BOTH get on a horse.
How many times have I sat at swim practices and meets and wanted to jump in that pool? Well, yeah, it’s mostly been to escape my other children, but still. Swimming looks fun.
And do you have any idea how hard it is to take your child to a dance and not dance? It’s painful. (My elder son once told me it should be illegal for a parent to dance within ten feet of her children.) **
I don’t want to not dance. (Double negative: I totally want to dance.) And I want to swim. And I want to play the drums. And I, well, no, you can keep tennis and soccer. But, yoga! I want to stretch and breathe.
When I first had that conversation about the track light fixtures and took stock of my own newness, I immediately thought new meant a vacation. Going somewhere. But, it doesn’t. I’ve gone places. It’s great while you are gone (mostly), but then you come home and hop back on that 40 year treadmill. Treadmills suck. (not the good marrow type of sucking, either)
Of course I want to keep going places, but, even more than that, I want newness right here, smack-dab in my every day life. And all I have to do is be the type of person who does new things. Like my sister. Or my father-in-law. He’s twenty years older than I am and is currently learning to play the guitar. He (sort of) played Happy Birthday to my son a couple of weeks ago.
Newness is a choice. It is not something you buy or somewhere you go, it's something you do. It is learning and practicing and working hard at something that is exhilarating or inspiring. Doing something new means living instead of just existing.
(Although, new light fixtures can of course be totally awesome, too.)
[*FOOTNOTE: Ironically, Thoreau was 37 when he published the bit about marrow sucking in Walden... but, then he died 7 years later. So perhaps I don’t want to suck ALL the marrow at once.]
[**UPDATE: My daughter just told me my son was quoting one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books with the dancing insult. I find this disappointing because at the time I was impressed by his creativity and nuanced sarcasm. Fortunately, it was a good delivery and that was all him.]
I like to throw things.