Green Grow, The Rushes Go

I was at a large social gathering which has always been when I’m at my happiest, although childrearing can create a coat of rust on your grown-up chain mail and I really wasn’t at my best. But, as Pavoratti said when asked how he sings when he’s not a hundred percent, “the times I was a hundred percent I can count on one hand, one must still sing…” And I went in determined to enjoy myself and see if I could make my smart friends crack up. No easy task, either of these things.

Hours into the night, as everyone was well lubed and loosened, I happened upon two friends discussing the astonishing beauty of a third friend and one of them said “God, it would be amazing – not to just, y’know, *date* her or whatever, but to just get to have a life where she’s the person you’re sharing it with. That would be astonishing…” (or something to that effect, we were all drunk, who remembers) and I very calmly said –

“If you found a woman like that, an astonishing woman, a bright and inspiring woman who’s mind matches her beauty who inspires you to try to strive to be Your Best You every single day, and if you got her to go out with you and date you and call you her boyfriend, and if one day she marries you and decides to have children with you, and you do, and she likes it so much she decides to have a second, and you do, and your money is steady and your home is safe and your children are healthy and this astonishing woman only gets more intelligent, more insightful and more beautiful with each passing day… you will be faced with the undeniable truth that nothing about this relationship changes the fact that every day you still have to be you, you still have to roll out of bed every morning and stare into the existential abyss and know that while the company you keep is the very best company you can possibly find, you still are born alone and you die alone and there is a wall that separates you from the greatness of the people you choose to share your life with that even the greatest intimacy that life allows will not break down.”

My two friends gave me bear hugs and thanked me because they weren’t thinking about this truth, and realizing it gave them enormous comfort. That’s the kind of friends I have.

I have not discovered the very thing that I want to instill in my children and if you don’t have something, you can’t give it to your kids. I am loathe to give advice on kids, but here’s the thing – you just can’t make your children better than you, you have to become better *first* and then hope it rubs off. You want your kids to eat veggies? The only way is if it’s the only option and you’re eating it with them. My son eats fried chicken nuggets and guess what? SO DO I. Been doing it for years. And I totally forgot to change everything about myself before I had kids, so now my kids are turning out *just like me*.

Barnaby was in swim classes and it was a real struggle for him. But he worked all year, too nervous to put his face in the water, too scared to be in the pool without holding on to his teacher, and because he’s our kid he spent the entire class spinning some yarn about what actually happens in water, what creatures are like on Neptune where their bodies are made out of water, what kind of dinosaurs can actually pilot space craft through planets made entirely of water, etcetera. Finally, after a year we found ourselves in Myrtle Beach and on our last day there, he swam with water wings all by himself. Kicking, paddling blowing bubbles and breathing. By himself.

He immediately shut down our praise. It was nothing. He knew it was nothing, every other kid has been swimming forever. He looked around at other kids who were just swimming and said, “Quit making such a big deal. This is nothing. This isn’t some big deal, everyone can do this.”

What can I tell him? I am restless and dissatisfied in a way that is actually destructive to me. Any perceived success feels like a missed opportunity for something far better. And my dissatisfaction with my life, considering the jaw-dropping advantages and good luck that has simply fallen in my lap, is disgusting to me. I wrote the title of this blog and thought to myself, “Man, it’s been a while since I listened to early R.E.M., I wonder if I still have all those CDs.” And I didn’t look because I know I don’t, I just went to iTunes and bought a couple of early R.E.M. albums. That’s the life I live, that moment right there is a fucking DREAM to 15 year old me, who didn’t have the money to buy a single R.E.M. album – I stole from record stores ALL THE TIME and had my friends make me *tapes* of albums I wanted.

Do you know how I shoplifted? I went into stores and grabbed tapes and then ran out the door. That was my plan. How did my life become *this*, where I am now? How do I have a magic music machine and magic money that gets me any album I want and I don’t have to worry about the eight dollars? How did that happen? I look at my friends who went to beautiful private universities and I see them enjoying their own shows and enjoying their lives and part of me just pines for that simple pleasure of *appreciation*. I see my married friends hurrying home from their actual grown-up jobs to be with their kids for a couple of hours before bedtime, and my stomach drops because of all the times I drive slowly home from my half-hour trip to the grocery store by myself because it’s the only time I’m neither here nor there, the only time there are no self-imposed expectations that I’m missing the mark on.

And then I remember – man, every single one of us, on some level, feels the same thing. There are people who look at my kids and my marriage and think I’ve got my shit together, it’s even possible that people look at my life and wish they could have the things I have, despite the fact that absolutely none of it gives me the slightest sense of accomplishment or peace. The green grass grows in every yard, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can’t help but stare at the lawn and, while forgetting that I should never have had a home or a yard or a place to grow anything, I think of how much greener and fuller it could be. And if there is any one thing that I wish I could improve, it would be my ability just be goddam thankful for the life I have, that gives me such rewarding and simple-to-solve problems.