So many sentiments expressed during these crazy, sad, dispiriting years have come and gone. Just when we think, “wow, that’s true,” or “wow, that is so not true,” thoughts fly away. Not erased, exactly, but soon to be one-upped by something as initially disheartening, then forgotten.
I told him I hoped to be a nerd when I grew up.
But, then, something may take hold. Which brings me to words my friend’s eight-year old grandson said to me a few weeks ago. A slightly over-active child, he grabbed my glasses at the dinner table, put them on, and asked if he looked “like a nerd.” I told him I hoped to be a nerd when I grew up. “You’re done growing up,” he said.
Those words initially made me laugh, then I took the challenge. “I am never going to be done growing up,” I told him. He moved on (hey, he has a lot of growing up ahead), but I once again began to think of all the years behind, and the receding ones ahead. I know I have not stopped getting older, but have I stopped getting better?
Done and Not Done
The variants seem to appear weekly, with new names and letters attached. The masks go on and off. The guns mostly go on. Too many politicians live in fear of a bully who stopped growing up decades ago. Many of us have turned off the news—or at least watch less of it—because we only listen to those saying what we know, or at least what we also believe. I even stopped obsessing about Ukraine, even though that blood is in my family: a Jewish father who escaped from the Cossacks there at the age of eight. I care, but I no longer cry.
I know I have not stopped getting older, but have I stopped getting better?
But that little boy’s description of me almost made me weep. How will my pandemic years be assessed? I am proud that my book list has reached more than 75. So many others have said they did not have the attention span, but I found the opposite to be true. Yes, I streamed shows endlessly, including that tiger guy and that sexy “Normal People” couple, but I also listened to so many lectures from the World War II Museum that my family started making fun of me. (Well, did you know that donkeys and even spiders were used as weapons?) As a theatre reporter, I have seen some 40 shows in New York in the past few months, even though it is often difficult to find anyone to join me.
I am not necessarily proud of what I have not done. For example, I have not purchased one flower for our New York home since March 2020. I guess it has to do with knowing we would not be entertaining, but it felt like more than that: negating the place I associate with having been the initial epicenter. I have certainly stayed close to our kids (our son came home that March for dinner, and to wash clothes, and stayed three months), but have I been as attentive to the wonderful husband who was suddenly around day and night? No words can explain why not.
Early Dreams and Later Realities
In her famous memoir, “Haywire,” Brooke Hayward tells countless stories about being raised by famous parents with equally famous friends. There were parties galore, filled with stars, including one night when, “Dinah Shore sang for three hours. From the barn, we listened to the music and wished we were grown up too.”
Why don’t we–gulp—seniors give up?
Those lines resonate, and not just because (name dropping alert!) I learned to twist at Dinah Shore’s house. As kids, of course, we all wanted to grow up faster, and Hayward’s recollections, like all great memoirs, are meant to spark our own early dreams and later realities. Those of us who lived through the Sixties thought we’d never experience such a tempestuous and divisive time again. Well, shootings are prevalent, racism is rampant, addiction abounds, fires and storms threaten, loved ones are fighting over vaccinations, and so much more.
Leading one to ask: Why would anyone want to leave childhood behind? Why don’t we–gulp—seniors give up? Who knows, but I am not giving up, and I am determined to show that wise little boy that I am not done growing up either.
Michele Willens is the author of From Mouseketeers to Menopause.