Thursday, June 9, 2011
45 Going on 30
Recently I made a new realization about myself concerning my state of childfreedom.
It happened when I was spending the day with my 5 year old niece. It was a full day of one-on-one fun with little Amy who I just love to pieces. I picked her up from my brother's house and we took a day trip to the Jersey shore. We had several hours together on the beach and then we walked the boardwalk. We had a lot of fun.
The realization I made is that I feel young because I am childfree.
I am 45 years old, but despite this fact, I feel about 30. I am frequently told I look about 35. I dress like a 30 year old. I have a good amount of energy. I have a silly sense of humor. I am always up for trying new things - in fact, I constantly seek out new experiences. I am always on the lookout for my next new endeavor - what class might I take next? What skill might I learn? Who's up for an adventure? Anyone want to go skiing? Hiking? Camping? Ice skating? Anyone want to spend the day at an amusement park with me? I'll ride the biggest rollercoasters and I'll share a funnel cake with you.
Many people claim that having kids makes a person feel younger because they are surrounded by youth and "young" things, like kiddie music, kiddie activities, kiddie t.v. shows and so forth. I would like to make the opposite argument. No matter what "young" things I am around, I feel older when I am with children, even the ones I adore and particularly children in my care. Suddenly, I go from feeling like a hip, young, carefree woman to feeling like a school marm. My mental state shifts from fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants spontaneity and anything goes, to hyper alertness, seriousness and concern. This child could die in my care. This child has to be watched. This child could be abducted. This child could choke on something. I can't drift off to sleep under my umbrella on the beach. I can't let my attention wander. I can't suddenly change my mind about a nutritious lunch and feast on cookies instead. I can't ignore the clock. There are curfews to be met and mealtimes not to be missed. There is medication to be dispensed. There must be a bathroom nearby, a ready change of clothes, a full tank of gas and a fully-charged cell phone. I must be 100% plugged in at all times.
The contrast in age and maturity between my little niece and me makes me feel really old. I have a similar experience when walking through the local university campus on my lunch hour. My image of myself of a young woman is blown the second I am surrounded by 19 year olds who are walking to class in belly shirts with pajama pants and flip flops. I am smacked in the face by the fact that I am a mature woman and not a young, poorly-attired, wide-eyed upstart wondering what's on the horizon.
I like pretending I am young and most days I live happily in my state of delusion with little to contradict it. After all, most people my age seem much older (probably because they're parents), so it's easy to masquerade as a 30 year old. They - with their bloodshot, wrinkle-rimmed eyes, unkempt graying hair, lack of mojo and empty wallets - seem a sharp contrast to me, so I imagine I am from the young, hip generation and they are old folks.
It also must be said that part of my feeling of youthfulness comes from the flexibility I am afforded in life, thanks to not having kids. Sure, I am married and own a home - two hallmark achievements of maturity - but I like the fact that if we really wanted to, hubby and I could uproot ourselves and start an entirely new life someplace else without much to stop us. The house can be sold and new jobs can be found (well, maybe not too easy right now, but you get the idea). The point is, we don't have to worry about how a big change would impact the fragile pyche of a developing child. We don't have to worry about school districts or family-friendly neighborhoods. We don't have to worry about whether our child would be able to adapt to his new environment, make new friends, or whether the move would prove to be a disaster. We'd only have to worry about ourselves, and we're old and tough enough to know we can handle it.
There is so much to love about childfreedom and it occurs to me now that I need to talk about this more. Childfreedom is so often seen as a life without something - that the false perception of lack can sometimes overshadow the reality of the fullness, flexibility and vibrancy that we are so gratefully afforded thanks to this one very simple and important life choice. Feeling young is just one small benefit in the very long list of ways we have it so great. There is no gaping void in the life of childfreedom. There is only precious open space to fill however we like. How do you fill your space?