Having two older brothers, I realized the other day, is what made me so eager, from a very early age, long to be older. When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be older — bigger — like my brothers to play football and baseball with them and their friends. When they became teenagers in the 1950s and emulated the rebellious, independent, impudent, disrespectful attitudes of James Dean and Elvis Presley, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be "cool," to use a slang term of the era. Singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, in her "Only a Dream" poignantly tells of the bond between younger and older siblings.
Later, as they embarked on careers and marriages, I envied their income and their escape from what seemed to me to be the mundane existence we had shared as children. As I struggled with small children and the expenses of maintaining a household, I envied the relative freedom of older children and maturing careers.
I finally put aside my eagerness to be older when the infirmities of age began taking a toll on my brothers and the realities of rearing teenagers made having small children seem comparatively tame. Crossing a threshold around age 30, I found my metabolism slowing down, my stamina diminishing, my weight increasing, my skin beginning to sag and my joints aching. Suddenly, being older didn't seem so enticing.
In recent years, I've envied some peers who have completed careers in law enforcement, teaching or other vocations that provide early retirement. "When we retire ... " became a catch-phrase for our household conversations. We would travel, learn to play music, do crosswords, read all those books we had set aside, visit the grandchildren, volunteer more and ... you name it. But these past six months, while I've been a statistic among the millions of recently laid off American workers, I've done relatively few of the things I had envisioned for when I had the time. As in most "grass is greener" scenarios, the reality doesn't measure up to the dream. And the anxieties of job-hunting in this market have deflated whatever enjoyment I could muster.
Congratulations are in order this retirement day, but not envy. I'm not eager, at long last, to be as old as my brothers as we've reached the point when age is better measured in generations than in years and time is no longer on our side.