not retiring from life

Yesterday I went out rowing in a double with a woman who is a bit less than a decade older than me. She has four children, all rowers, the younest of whom is just starting college. She go involved with the rowing club to support her kids, and decided to learn herself about 5 years ago; her husband took up the sport two years ago.

I think this is all absolutely wonderful, for them, for their kids, for the other juniors and parents at the club. I get so frustrated at people who center their lives entirely around their children, who do nothing but pick fun activities for their kids and then spend their own time just taking the kids to and fro and helping out at those activities. I know kids take up lots of time and attention; I know it’s nearly impossible to exercise while minding a toddler and that your own pursuits often have to be scheduled around your kids’ needs. But it is demonstrably not impossible to have your own activities, especially not after they’re in school. People do it all the time, Q.E.D. it can be done. I think not having your own fun cheats not only you (and why are you less valuable than your kids?) but cheats them too.

I get annoyed at high school rowers who think they’re done with the sport forever if they don’t get to row in college, or with collegiate rowers who think they have to say goodbye to their oars forever. There’s a whol world of open and masters’ rowing, and depending how seriously you want to take it, you can train and compete at as high a level you want, for a very long time. The oldest competitor I ever met personally was 91 – and thanks to his age handicap, he and his partner very nearly beat Rudder and T2 in a doubles race once.

But it’s not just about sports. There’s a common lament that once upon a time, kids were eager to grow up and assume adult rights and responsibilities, which nowadays in these degenerate times kids have no desire to grow up and instead adults act like kids. Well, hell, yeah, of course – when we keep teaching the lesson that only kids or young adults get to have any fun, that at a certain time you have to settle down, fade into the background, and never dream of enjoying yourself again except vicariously. What kind of way is it to plan a life, where if you live to be 75 you get to spend the first third enjoying yourself, the next third only enabling others to enjoy themselves, and the last third regretting that you can’t enjoy much any more? But it’s not true and it’s not the only way to live. Luckily for me I have lots of examples of a better way, of people with and without kids who have adventures and who have fun, whatever age they are. (And also, people who view having kids as an adventure and look for the delights in every stage instead of just looking at them as a scheduling challenge.)

This is one of the reasons I’ve gotten so annoyed at the Liz storyline in the For Better or For Worse comic strip; it’s not that I might if she settles with Anthony instead of Paul, it’s that I hate the idea that she was all adventurous in her younger days, went off to college far away and to teach in the Far North and now it’s all out of her system and she’s ready to settle down. It’s also a reason I get annoyed at Death of the Magic books (Hooray! The kids saved the world! But now there is no more magic and they have to grow up in relentless mundanity!) or books like E. Nesbit’s and a host of others in which only children can even see any magic in the world, and adults are similarly confined to a mundane existence or even books like Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, where the youngest wizards have all of the power and all of the biggest challenges and adults are relegated to a more administrative and guidance role.

That’s a thing I like a lot about the Harry Potter books (no Book 7 spoilers): there’s a whole wizarding world, with people of every age. Rowling’s don’t outgrow their magical talents; the adults are actually much more powerful than the kids. The wizarding world may need something from Harry, but as the challenges get bigger in each book, adults as well as his peers have to fight. Magic is a part of their lives at all ages, and adults still have adventures, still fight for what they believe in. Growing up, wizards might regret leaving Hogwarts as a lot of us Muggles regret having to leave college, but they don’t have to settle into a mundane Muggle life.

I’m glad for her sake that my rowing partner is living her own life instead of wasting the last half of it, but I also think she’s getting a good example for her kids, and for other people her own age. And for me.

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1 Response to not retiring from life

  1. l'empress says:

    No, we don’t retire from life as we grow older. My perspective is different, of course; you are only a little older than my children, and they will be the first to tell you that I may have made some adjustments, but I’m still learning about life.

    However, I think you are making some assumptions about “For Better or For Worse,” that may not be valid. Staying in one place physically does not automatically mean you are stagnating. Not saying this is the only factor here, but, if you’re trying to rear children and build stability for them, you may feel that one town/one school system/one basic group of friends is the best thing for them.

    I have high hopes for Elizabeth and Anthony. I’m just sorry we won’t see it happen.

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