Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Age is a requirement. Old is an elective. And other things I learned at college last week.

Who can see the metaphor in this photo?
In a phone conversation with my college junior recently, I reported that he was over budget and asked what was going on. He reported that it had just snowed an inch on his North Carolina campus and because the administration had "freaked out over the snow," they'd cancelled classes, and so he and his friends threw a "snowpocalypse" party. 
And so he had to spend a little more on that. 
I'll bet all those morning commuters in NC who slid into each other on the way to work didn't  throw a party. 
Ah. Youth. 
A while back, someone in my writer group posted a question: when are we "old?" I thought about that, but not because age is troubling in my view. It is just unanswerable in my view, an issue of attitude more than years. 
I know everyone says that, but I mean it. I've known humorless thirty-year-olds who are older than whimsical sixty-year-olds. And while it's hard to describe the difference between an old and a young attitude, it's easy to observe if your four millennials range in age from snowpocalyse to married-with-a-masters.   
First, what youth isn't, is fewer years, or lines, or aches and pains, or better memory and vision. We aren't old if these things are going on. We're old if we complain about them, because nothing is more tedious.

And, we aren't "old" if we are no longer young. We're old when we feel we've seen the best of life already and don't bother to grow. 
Better to ask, what is "young?" Well, sometimes it's just offering a not-old response to a spontaneous opportunity for fun. 
It's this: 
We'd risen at four-thirty a.m. to catch an early flight from Boston to North Carolina to visit our snowpocalypse-throwing son, wishing to spend as much of our arrival day with him as we could.  We met him for lunch, and again for dinner at a "nice restaurant," after which, we planned, he would head to whatever-he-does, and we would head back to the hotel. 
But our son was eager to introduce us to his buddies, and had already invited them, and they'd already said "Sure!" and so he asked us to "come by at around ten" for a couple of rounds of beer pong before their actual party started at twelve. 

We would use water, he added graciously. "You don't have to actually drink beer." 

This could not have been less like whatever-we-do. We could have passed, we almost did. 
"We'll be there," I said. 
We went.
We stayed.
We played. 
The guys whooped and yelled when my husband got the ball in the cup and there was high-fiving when he and our son won, and then there was another round, and then I started asking questions about this and that, and then I said, "Can I try?" and five guys jumped in to advise me to "float, not toss" the little ball and use more wrist than arm, and so on. 
A little before eleven, we cleared out well in advance of actual party-goers who probably didn't want to see their own parents that night or anyone else's.
My notes from the plane:
Young is taking part in something fun even if it's hard.
Old is taking part in something fun if it's easy.
Young is looking forward to something that's even better.
Old is looking back on everything that's already happened as better.
Young isn't immature, young is energetic.
Old isn't tired, old is cautious.
Old cancels classes.
Young has a snowpocalypse party. 
The experience of hanging out with my son and his respectable (and authentic –  no pressure there to dial down the language in our presence) friends left us feeling lighter for having shed the parent cloak for a brief time, but mostly it left us feeling included in something spontaneous and happy and fun which, yes, felt like youth. 
What I learned at college last week is this: age is a required course.  But "old" is an elective.
Now go and organize a wine-pong party and act your age.


  1. Sounds like a great time. I hope when my son is off at college that he welcomes us the way your son did (mine is 15 so I still have a few years.) :)

  2. It's one of the greatest things to part from the roles and enjoy each other as adults. Truly, a pleasure of parenting we don't always expect.

  3. Susan, what a wonderful piece and worthy of sharing as a "living happy - inside out" Tweet! I agree that there are people who turn "old" at 30. I felt old when I was young! How much more wonderful to continue to embrace life with bright vitality. I smiled at the read because I'm living in much the same space today that you are - even if I've yet to be invited to play in a beer pong match :)

  4. Maura, thank you!! And yes, I'm flattered that we were asked to take part and the guys were probably happy that we had the sense to leave at the right time, too.

  5. I LOVE this, Susan! Well, of course I do because it comes from you. You are a great mom and friend because you see things as a young person (which I also love about you.) To be invited into your son's life, even for a short time, is a gift. At 22 my son does that fewer times now, but when he does I JUMP on it. Yes, age is a requirement (thank goodness) but the being young is having a youthful and open state-of-mind.

    By the way, the profile photo of you. I'd love to sit next to you for a chat any time! xo

  6. Thank you Cathy, so much. There's a good distinction there: seeing things as a younger person might, without trying to act like a younger person which is SO different. That said, just being around someone in that playful time of life is a breath of fresh air. And I'm sure we'll have that chat, someday, somewhere!

  7. I'm late to this post (I was "unplugged" for awhile), but I think you are very very wise.

  8. I love this post. I feel sad because my parents, 72 and 74, are now old. I don't want them to be and I don't think I can make them NOT be. My grandmother died in her 90s and was NEVER old. I think you captured the difference eloquently and I wrote your quotes in my book to ponder later and quotes that inspire me. While I do reflect more on the past at 45 than I ever have before, I know now that that action does not make me old. Thank you.

  9. Wendy, I love your comment and appreciate that you took something from the post that meant something to you. As for reflection, I think it's really important to do that - kind of like cleaning a closet of the things you own, but don't necessarily need. It's part of living, not aging in my opinion, to figure out the things to let go of and make space for the new things that are coming. Thank you again, for your warm words.

  10. I have a MUCH younger brother in his 20s and I'm so proud of him for many of the reasons you stated. I do think they ALL need to hear that it gets easier. You're a very talented writer BTW.

  11. Thank you for such a fun story! I have two sons of my own in college this year and miss them so much. We are lucky to have always been the hangout house, which now seems so empty without the laughter of our boys with friends. This made me smile.

    1. Thank you Suzanne, for visiting and for your comment. I was blown away by how our son and his friends have formed their own "family," complete with clean up duty and "house rules." But mostly, I loved the look at his life up close - by invitation!