Signs that you're getting old

Lennie was born on June 24, less than two weeks before July 4. As happens with new parents, we hadn’t been sleeping very well, and though we expected your standard whistley firecrackers in our neighborhood, some neighborhood kids had more in store. Sometime late on the night of the 4th, we began to hear great reverberating booming sounds issuing from the cul-de-sac a few doors down. As in our windows rattled. There was definitely no ignoring these sounds, and as we had finally gotten Lennie to sleep, it was time for us to rest some. I angrily tossed on some clothes and stomped down to the cul-de-sac to see what was going on, and the son of my retired-military neighbor began hastily packing up whatever gear he and his buddy had been using. I confronted them and asked if they were making all the racket, and they denied it, looking rather panicked. I suppose I probably did come off as a little deranged. I glared at them and told them that if I heard the noises again, I’d — I’m a little embarrassed at both the fact and the wording of this statement — “call the law.” Then I stomped back to my house and got back in bed and probably was awakened shortly by my crying child. We later reflected on the incident and giggled over my phrasing and the picture I must have made, all but shaking my fist at the good-for-nothing whippersnappers who had robbed me of my sleep. That, over three years ago, was the first sure sign for me that I was beginning to show some age.

Fast forward to this evening for sign number two. Since before we had Lennie, we’ve done Halloween at our friends Dave and Karen’s neighborhood. The neighborhood we moved into last November has its own big Halloween bash, though, and we wanted to participate in that this year, as we’re trying to do better about letting Lennie out of the basement during daylight hours so that she can interact with neighborhood kids near her age. So our neighborhood has a cookout for Halloween, and everybody runs around with their kids for a while and hands out candy for a while and eats hot dogs at some point, and it’s all very hectic and disorganized, which is fitting for a holiday like this. With two small children and with three mouths to get fed, we had at some point to leave our Halloween candy unattended, which seemed safe enough from where we sat in the dark outside our next-door neighbor’s house. Oh, we figured there’d be some overzealous kids who’d take more than two or three pieces of candy, but the abuse we discovered after dark was really shocking.

At one point, I went over to check our candy level and found some teenagers sifting through the bowl to find the good stuff, which they were taking liberal helpings of. They scattered as I approached. Even after this pilfering, the bowl was nearly full, and full of good stuff (it hadn’t been too long since we had set some more out). Satisfied that we weren’t going to be short-changing the neighborhood kids, I went back over to eat another hot dog. A few minutes later, we packed up to bring Lennie home for bed, and as we approached, I saw a couple more teenagers hovering around our bowl. I could see in silhouette that they were each taking multiple great big handfuls of candy. I made some noise as we approached and they scattered, and I couldn’t help saying something snide to the effect of “try to leave some candy for the little kids” as I passed. Even having witnessed the greed in silhouette, I thought surely there would be some good candy left to hand out to honest trick-or-treaters, but the bowl was empty save for a few cheapo suckers.

Later, I was stewing over this a bit and found myself thinking things like “what could you possibly do with all that candy anyway,” for surely even as a teenager with unfetterable desires, I would have known that double-handfuls of candy times a few dozen houses would be more than I could be up to glutting myself on in any reasonable amount of time. And from this bit of retrospection, I thought about greed generally and supposed to myself that perhaps part of growing up was learning to balance greed vs. what’s reasonable (though I think this is probably flawed, as there are plenty of grown-ups who can’t seem to do this). And from there I got to thinking about it in terms of empathy and how maybe that was the actual defining characteristic of maturation, for while I was a little personally miffed that there weren’t a couple of sleeves of Whoppers and a Reese’s cup or two left over for me to enjoy, what really bothered me was the fact that any more trick-or-treaters I had to face for the evening would get the filler candy because a bunch of teenagers couldn’t see far enough past their own desires to understand that they’d really be as happy with 5 pieces of my candy as with two dozen at no cost to the pleasure of little kids who would come behind them.

There was no shaking of fists, but I can’t help seeing this series of thought processes as sign number two that I’m getting old. In fact, I wonder if becoming introspective about the nature of greed and maturity isn’t itself a sign of maturity into a different phase of adulthood. Surely sleep deprivation had something to do with my previous fist-shaking, but perhaps a certain general hot-headedness was at play as well; I was assuredly more hot-headed about other things when I was a slightly younger adult. Of course, the most famous of fist-shakers are the real old-timers, and if my brief history to date as an old-timer in training is any indication, I’ll be a righteous fist-shaker indeed. This is fitting enough if the old cliche about starting and ending life in similar states of mind and body is true. As I was born and will die incontinent and toothless, it appears that the beginning and end of my adult life may be book-ended by mirrored behaviors as well.

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