Fifty and Fine with It… by Steve Safran

I’m 50.

This will mean very little to you. Your Facebook feed is full of people who can’t believe how old they are, how old their kids are, and how time flies. You can’t believe you’re older? He can’t believe his daughter’s starting kindergarten. Apparently, none of us get how time works.

But believe me, it has happened. I’m 50.

Here’s a summary of my forties: Divorced, cancer, failing eyesight, impaired hearing, relentless back and nerve pain, job losses, and I shut down my own company.

But here’s another summary of my forties: Two kids in college, employed, healthy family, great summers, travel, and… I’m engaged.

A friend emailed and asked me “What have you learned?” Well, plenty. I’m comfortable telling you: the older I get, the less I know. Honestly, that’s a great feeling.

When you’re a teenager, you have an answer for everything. At least, that’s what the adults told me. “You have an answer for everything!” they yelled. I thought that was a good thing. Shouldn’t you have an answer? But as I’ve gotten older, I realize I don’t have the answers. My previous answers were, in fact, bullshit. I was bullshitting people and was damn good at it. I am quick enough to hold court on any topic for about 30 seconds, and simultaneously afraid people will find out I have no idea what I’m talking about. Dad still thinks I should have gone into law, but history has proven this quality was perfect for many years spent working in TV.

Now, at the ripe age of 50, I don’t bullshit. If I don’t know the answer, I say, “I don’t know.” It’s liberating. I also don’t care that I don’t know. Scratch that– I love when I don’t know, especially if it’s an interesting question. It gives me the opportunity to do a little Google research and learn something new. We live in a time I’m calling “The Great Overconfidence.” Everyone has an answer for everything. But they’re bullshitting, too. When the Supreme Court lays out its decision, suddenly everyone is a legal scholar. When scientists make a discovery, everyone with a Twitter account has a Ph.D. in Science-y Things. Too many people are sure they have the hot take on everything from broth diets to Oprah’s Presidential fitness. Me? I’m happy to learn from experts.

At 50, I’m confident and comfortable enough to say “no.” That peer pressure thing? We’re done. Guilt trips for no-shows or last-minute cancellations are for your 30s and 40s. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t do it. And I love that my friends are all of the same mind. Can’t make it to the party? Fine. Just don’t feel like coming? You don’t need an excuse. We’ll catch you at the next one.

It’s not all “I don’t know” and “no,” though. I’m a (slightly) less cynical middle-ager; I just know what I like. But these days, I’m more inclined to try new experiences. Fiancée Kim will come up with a “pop-up vacation” idea, and we just go. The kids are older now, so we have that flexibility—another perk of this aging thing. Seeing my three kids mature into young adults is an absolute joy. I raised them all the same, but they’re three distinctly different personalities. I love that about them. At 50, I appreciate them even more for being the unique beings they’ve become.

Perhaps the biggest secret is that I’m a squishy sentimentalist. As I age, I get squishier. The truth is, I really hated being a kid. I wasn’t good at it. I was one of those “old for his years” kids. I’ve been 50 for a long time. It’s just that the calendar finally caught up with me.

Funny to think now that I dreaded turning 40, when I’m really looking forward to my fifties. I’m getting married in July. The next few years are filled with graduations and other great milestones. Eventually, because time insists upon marching on, even Britt will turn 50 and that will be fantastic. (For her friends, I mean, because there will be a Prosecco party, for sure.)  I may even become a grandparent in the next 10 years. (No pressure, kids.) By 2028, I fully expect to look back on my fifties with pride.

Not that I’m rushing to get there. Those things are really far away, and also right around the corner. Seriously, I can’t believe I’ll be turning 60 in 10 years…

STEVIE KID

Stevie, in his “old for his years” suit.

 

Two More Days

TWO MORE DAYS.

That’s it. I can make it. Belated birthday dinner with high school besties tonight, a final Friday to kill with Bernie, and then we will make our way down to JFK to birddog the airport and wait for our not-so-little kids to disembark. I hope my in-laws don’t let them travel in these tees:

 

Boys in Tees

Somehow, these were approved purchases.

The boys asked if we could just drive home to Boston immediately. Even though it will be 11pm on a Saturday night in NYC, they don’t want to waste one minute getting back to their beds and computers and stuff. I don’t blame them. Plus, they’ll feel like it’s lunchtime, so the first stop will be to place a huge order for chicken nuggets and fries. I cannot wait. I CANNOT WAIT.

I’m itching to hear their stories, study their faces, and squeeze their taller bodies. Veteran camper moms have already told me the first blush of reunion affection fades quickly, as boys are always hungry, can’t find anything ever, and have poor aim. But honestly, I haven’t felt I CANNOT WAIT excitement this strongly since I was engaged. These Lee boys have a hold on me.

Darling April invited me over last week, in a sort of typical text exchange for us:

Her: What are you doing now? Want to come over here?

Me: COMING.

I was there in, like, 20 min. Her kids, who have known mine since none of them could do multiplication, ran out of the house to greet me. Will pummeled me with a bear hug, Bryan enveloped the two of us, and it was everything I needed. God, I love them. Also, April’s kids–always sporty and healthy and vibrant—become a bit Greek God-like in the summertime: blond streaks, tan muscles, over-tall and strong and gorgeous. They’re also really interesting, kind, funny humans. Teenagers who are still willing to talk to adults are the absolute best, and possibly the antidote to any world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket feelings.

I’d love to write about her kids more… how one of them is navigating the choppy waters of dating in a heart-warming way that would make you want to pen five paragraphs. But those aren’t my stories to tell. What I can write is this: that evening with those great kids, and the multitude of texts and messages and emails from all of you to tell me you understand how I’m feeling right now… THANK YOU. It helped.

Although I’m missing my kiddos in a they-are-tied-to-my-soul way, I have truly enjoyed life with just Bernie. This preview to a future where our boys have their own lives isn’t so bleak… because Bernie is the best. (I’ll wait while you throw up in your mouth a little bit.) We might have already known this, but we really do still like each other—which is different from love and just as important. We have enjoyed oodles of evenings binge-watching excellent Netflix programming, eating great food, and just, you know, talking.

Two more days. And tonight: a reunion with my best friends from high school—the ones who know all of my stories and secrets. After catching up on the present (and sharing presents—a tradition we’ve never stopped), we’ll certainly bang away at the past. Thirty years of friendship, but we’ll still giggle about stuff that happened in 1988 like it was yesterday. And now my own kids are at the precipice of the whole titillating, scary, weird, awkward, embarrassing, basement-groping, how-far-will-this-go journey of the teenage boy. Eeek! I hope they have friends like these to navigate it.

252505_10150198046823284_4266102_n

I love us. 

Do you also feel like you were 17 just a few years ago? The days are long but the years are short, as they say. Two more days without my kids is an eternity, but vividly rekindled memories from a teenage past prove it all goes really quickly. At this point in life, there is so much to look back on with sighs, smiles, tears, and the occasional face-palm. There’s also a near equivalent amount to look forward to (with the same reactions) for our kids. I think this might be the sweet spot, and I feel guilty for wishing away any of this time instead of savoring it. And I’ll get back to that. In two more days.

I CANNOT WAIT.

 

 

 

 

Making Memories

My iPod is kaput. It’s (supposed to be) waterproof. I need it while swimming laps, so instead of being BORED OUT OF MY MIND, I can just tell myself I am freestyling for seven songs. I could endure any number of unpleasant activities for seven songs. Probably. If three of them were Rhianna. Oh na na… what’s my name. Or if even one was Justin Timberlake. Mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But today I pushed off from the wall in the lap lane without a single top 40 accompaniment to lessen the obvious torture of exercise. And 30 minutes of nothing but your own thoughts and breathing is an eternity, so I stop a bit short of that. And dammit if Barb and Arnie, my elderly swim noodle bobbing exercise pals don’t notice.

“Cut it a little short today!”

Yeah yeah yeah. I know, cancer-surviving Barb and Arnie, with your plastic visors, million grandchildren, lovely personalities, and sweet inquiries about my boys. BUT I CANNOT SWIM WITHOUT BEYONCE! So it’s only twenty minutes of back and forth and back and forth until I quit the pool to sit on the decking and swap Chinese restaurant recommendations with Barb and Arnie. Octagenarian Jews who snowbird in Florida know every dumpling dive like there is some Old Testament footnote that thou wilst be cashew chicken connoisseurs.

And this is how mornings go here in the summer… and the occasional evening, too. I find myself chatting up the oldest person in the pool, bar, or grocery aisle. The cancer-ed part of me is charmed by longevity and experiences, because I occasionally and morbidly wonder if I might not get to see that later version in the mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But mostly it’s because we can trade gardening tips and cluck disapprovingly at the maxi dress espadrille moms ignoring their bratty kids who encroach on the lap lane. Cluck cluck.

I do have some lovely summer mommy friends, though. I might have written that I like children about as much as exercise, so it’s rare for me to share a Chardonnay with someone whose spawn I can stomach. Also, I might be a terrible person. But my boys play tennis with a gaggle of tweens that off the courts are like a pile of ever-hungry puppies that remember to say please and thank you. Our house looks like this. Every day.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

We are in the sweet spot of parenting here and know it. In a few years, these boys will never choose to spend an entire night playing board games and video games and those made up games with the complicated scoring and occasional broken window… certainly not with moms upstairs. They’ll want to troll for cuties at the movie theater. In five years time, they’ll all be driving and dating and sneaky and smelly. The very idea that these kiddos once let us Twist and Shout with them during an impromptu dance party will be a remotely fond memory. We’ll miss them begging for brownies, sleepovers, and just five more minutes after spending untold hours together. But if we have Barb and Arnie luck, we’ll share these memories over our swim noodle bobbing routines in the lap lane.

Happy summer, friends. May all the bikes stop at your door.