Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Getting Better and Worse with Age

When I was a young mother, drowning in small children, I looked back on my days of studying theater as a kind of golden heyday. There I was in the thick of it, living in the theater, breathing drama, studying acting and history and stagecraft, doing what I loved. But all that was in the past, of course, and now my future was to be living vicariously through my children.

Here I am now, not quite 40, with my oldest 16 and my youngest 1, playing the blushing ingenue in our community theater's production of The Front Page. I have more fun on stage now than I did in college, because I'm not so worried about what people think of me. It's okay if I look silly, or fall on my face, or if I try my best and it's not enough. Being okay with being mostly competent at something often gives people the courage and the ability to move being mostly competent, or so I've found.

This is an example of the way someone can get better with age. Acting is easier for me now than it was when I was 20 years younger and 50 pounds lighter, because I have the confidence and the life experience to put into practice what I learned as theory. And isn't it nice to be wiser and more mature and to finally have some real technique?

And yet I'm also finding that skills I used to have seem to be slipping away from me. (And I don't mean walking up the stairs without my knees cracking.) In years past as I've taught my religion class, the words seemed to come to me. I was overflowing with ways to explain various concepts or an apt story to illustrate the day's topic. I was able to draw out quieter children or keep the chattier ones engaged (or at least mostly on topic). Maybe I had the energy of youth, I don't know.

Last year seemed to drain that from me. We had our first religion class of the year this past Sunday, and I felt myself struggling. Now we have smaller classes and a complete curriculum -- student workbooks, teacher manuals, journals, supplemental materials, craft supplies for the asking, -- and even with all this support (an entirely scripted lesson if I wanted!) I was grasping for words, feeling my stories fall flat, unable to breech the silence of the eighth-grader who wants nothing more than not to participate in class. Perhaps this is all subjective, but my teaching mojo certainly gives every impression of seeping out of the cracks. I've been looking for years for a sign that I can step away from being a catechist, and if the year continues this way, I may have found it.

Another thing that has slipped away from me is any tolerance for the enthusiasms of the inexperienced. I never volunteer to be one of those people that new homeschoolers can ask their questions, because that sort of thing turns me into the most miserable curmudgeon. There's nothing wrong, I suppose, with wanting your four-year-old to be reading chapter books, or with being distressed that your toddler doesn't share your love for your favorite fantasy series and won't listen through the read-aloud. There's nothing wrong with wanting to provide a structured day to a houseful of kids under 8. I just don't have the patience for it anymore.

This is possibly the other side of the coin for me. I tried hard to get my first four-year-old to read. I wanted to Do The Things. Since then I've had five other four-year-olds, and one still yet to be four, and the thought of implementing more fuss in my life is wearisome. Alas, this doesn't give me compassion for folks full of pep about starting out and wanting to ask all the questions. I feel exasperated at the thought of people actually looking to make more work for themselves, to the point where I have to avoid these kinds of conversations lest I break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. In this regard, age and experience haven't made me more graceful. They have made me hard and brittle.

There is a lie of progress, that we all get better with age, that our best selves are shaped and refined with the years. Maturity does wonders for people, of course, but talent and strength can peak and wane with time. And there's no discounting the cyclical nature of loves, and the situational grace that's withdrawn as circumstances change. New vices come with age, but so do new virtues. And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.


Julia said...



what is God teaching me in this exhaustion?
what is the difference between not-wanting-to and doing despite my feelings?
do I need to see how I grow in the midst of emotional drought?
how do I nourish myself and my faith when the spring runs dry?
how do I reach for God in new ways when the old ways don't work?

Sending you love...

Finicky Cat said...

I'm about your age, I think, and pondering similarly. I hadn't thought so clearly about the things I *don't* do as well as I did formerly -- mostly for me it's been a kind of surprised delight in being that dreaded thing, a middle-aged woman, and finding it such a diverse and exciting time of life. I've always wanted to embrace and accept aging, rather than fight and resent it, but of course wasn't sure if I actually could do so when the time came. It hadn't, shall we say, been modelled to me. And now that I have achieved in my years the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, and my knees crackle as I do the stairs, and I'm teaching my last kindergartener to spell his name the right way round, I think I can safely say that I have reached the Beginning of Aging -- and I'm perfectly okay with it. I wouldn't trade what I have gained for what I have lost...except maybe those precious babies. But, yes, I'm more brittle in some places, too -- for sure -- and I don't mean in my bones yet. This is just the BEGINNING of aging, this decade of the half-way mark. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts, MrsDarwin.

mrsdarwin said...

And thanks to you for reading. I'm the worst blogger ever for responding -- I don't know why, unless it's that I actually read most comments through my email instead of right here in the combox. But I often feel like I've interacted with and responded to comments, and I almost never do.

I wish I were on my last kindergartener most days, but my once-and-future last kindergartener is at the stage where he climbs up on the table and throws everything on the floor. He's a punk, but he's adorable and squeezy, so we keep him around.