Growth: The theme of my past 365 Days
Sometime shortly after I got engaged to my wife, my mom handed me a stack of letters addressed to me at her home address. I didn’t even have to take that long of a look at the envelopes to know that something was very, very different.
They were unopened.
Different cultures and households each have their own way of symbolizing the ultimate rite of passage into adulthood. In some African societies, it’s initiating a young adult into a hunting pack. In most American families, it’s moving out of your parents house that sends a signal to them that your relationship has now shifted to being one between two adults.
In my immediate family, our ritual is apparently not opening each other’s mail.
Even though years after I moved out of the house the only things that continued to arrive for me via mail were offers to renew my long-ended subscription to ESPN the Magazine and receipts to charitable donations that were too small to have an impact on anything tax-related, my mom continued to inspect each envelope. As I would get each one passed back to me with the carefully made incision on its side, she would always site the same reason that she was making sure I didn’t miss a bill that would wind up going to collections.
I noticed my stepdad treating me different, too. More as an equal. Although my parents very gradually eased into treating me as an adult, when I moved to college, when I graduated from college, when I moved out of state, never was the transition as abrupt and pronounced as it was when I got married.
That night, my stepdad was one of the most excited guests in attendance. He isn’t really one for big parties or social events, so that says a whole lot. When we left the reception hall, he gave me a fist bump. On the outside, it looked just like the way he congratulated me and my teammates the one year he coached my Little League team. There was something subtle to it, though, that perhaps only I noticed. It felt a lot more like he was passing a torch, via that fist bump.
When I look back on this year, it’ll really be looked back on unlike any other year. 2015 is almost synonymous with getting married, for me. To drive home the point even further, our wedding was right at the end of June, and I think it was as close of a Saturday as you could get to the exact midpoint of the year. It was that one event in particular around which everything else seemed to orbit- learning the ropes of sharing life with someone, of being older, and of enjoying the passage of time.
As a kid, I romanticized the mid-20’s as my most ideal age. My mom had me a little bit later in life, and once I got old enough to do the math, it occurred to me that there was a little period of time where she was as independent as it gets. She was free from both the restrictions and limitations of living with her parents and she had yet to become responsible for taking care of her own family.
I figured I would enjoy having all that independence myself. I looked forward to all the mental images I built up, of traveling internationally, of having time after work to go hang out with friends, of meeting up with friends in coffee shops and staying for as long as I pleased. And sure enough, that time came around and I really, really did enjoy all those things. I went to nearly three dozen countries in between my 20th and 25th birthdays. I met people and built friendships with them that lasted years. I managed to live more freely than I could ever imagine, learning so much in the process.
Then I got married. And by the time it happened, I was so ready for it. It felt like the way I lived while I was single left no stone unturned and no room for regret once my wedding day came around.
Much of our wedding was dedicated to the idea that getting married wasn’t settling down, but a bigger adventure. One that wasn’t just about going new places and jumping out of planes, but about getting to discover a person intimately and taking the risk of vulnerability. I still really believe in that.
At the same time, there are things I understand after getting married that I wouldn’t have been able to understand beforehand. Like how togetherness comes first, and how I would begin to think of ourselves as a unit.
Or how sacred that time is in between coming home from work and going to bed, when we just get to spend time with each other. How so much of my world right now is at home. How good that could be.
It’s become more and more clear, as my bedtime gets earlier and as my excitement over quality cookware grows irrationally larger, that I’m at a different stage of life than I’ve been for most of my early twenties. One that calls for a slightly different mindset.
It’s funny because the stage I always looked forward to is now the stage I’m drifting away from. But I’m learning that there are great things ahead.
I’ve already mentioned how one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past year or so has been how to enjoy the passing of time. I’m not done learning it, that’s for sure, but at the end of this year, I have a much greater appreciation for the way time goes by than I did at the beginning.
In short, the rapid passing of time had always bothered me. It would often make me anxious to think about how late in the year it suddenly was, or to think of how quickly the past ten years had seemed to go by. I would think that if the next ten years go by just as quickly, then before I even had a chance to take it all in, life would be over.
Of course that’s a bit dramatic, but that’s how being anxious about something works. It would bug me to think about all my older loved ones becoming older older, with, you know, a lot less life ahead of them even though I’d always thought of them as invincible to some extent.
I always did my best to rage against the passing of time, by doing whatever mental exercises I could to let things slow down. I tried to begin and end each day with slowness, giving myself as many opportunities to be fully present as I could. I thought of ways to mentally play with my perception of time, assigning each week with its own markers, so that it was easier to distinguish one from the other. These all helped to some extent, but I was missing something big that I finally got a taste for this year.
Even if I got it to move at a snail’s pace, time would still be moving, and I think this year I learned how to be okay with that. I thought about milestones. I made a video for our wedding, comprised of clips from childhood. High school football games and recitals and graduations and family vacations. On their own, each of these clips is only somewhat amusing. But when you see them pieced together in progression, spelling out the story of life, it’s something incredible. You can’t have that perspective without the effect of time.
Ultimately, time is a dimension. One that allows us to see beautiful things we wouldn’t see without it.
Earlier in the year, I took a trip to Little Rock with my mom. She offered to take me on a mother-son trip sometime before I got married, and I’m not the kind of person who says no to trips. Of all the places I could’ve picked, I went with Little Rock.
(I feel like that needs some justifying on its own… I looked at the remaining states I hadn’t yet visited, wanting to cross one off, and Arkansas seemed like one that was in an awkward spot geographically to do on a future road trip. I would definitely be proven wrong later in the year when we took a road trip that went right through Little Rock. Should’ve gone with West Virginia! Oh well.)
On our first night there, we ended up at an eccentric Airbnb (way too out there for my mom’s comfort) and also ended up locked out. Even after we found a way to get back in, she did something I never would and splurged on a hotel. I kept telling myself how I couldn’t understand her and how different she was from myself.
And then it occurred to me… there was nothing wrong with that.
In fact, during that trip I got to do something that I think is one of the most important things to do while growing up– seeing my parents as human, with their own flaws and quirks. And not just my parents, but the entire generation before mine.
I realized that in my earliest memories of my mom, she’s not too far apart in age from where I am now. She had to deal with some huge challenges, like losing her dad and my dad in only about a year’s worth of time. As that sunk in, I realized I could appreciate our differences way more.
She also gave me something I never knew existed. A handwritten letter from my dad, written just a couple of months before he passed. I won’t share it, because I want to keep it as deeply personal as I can, but it was a very reassuring letter, and two months before my wedding was a perfect time to come across it. I realized that it would likely be the only time I’d hear “directly” from him for the first time for the rest of my life.
Reading allowed me to revisit my childhood through the vantage point of everybody else. My dad. My mom. My aunts who would step up to help take care of me. And it brought a whole new level of depth of gratitude to what I always took for granted as “my past.”
Being back in California for our first Christmas as a married couple was really special. We lucked out and were able to spend it with both sides of our family, even if that called for a really early morning drive through the snow to get from San Diego to Bakersfield.
I got to spent Christmas morning with my two nephews. As of this year I can call Simon and Luke my nephews without having to add any qualifiers. I helped them construct a giant dinosaur, and Simon wrote me a book about the Oregon Ducks.
On Christmas Eve, my cousin Ivy, who is in many ways the closest thing I have to a sister, got engaged to her boyfriend, JB. They’re already trying to get a leg up on planning their wedding.
They also won’t be the only ones getting on the near horizon. I think Deanna and I have at least three or four weddings on the calendar, and there’s still enough time for close friends of ours to drop the news. (Though, this is starting to get expensive! Thank God for frequent flyer miles.)
There’s something about the rise in the way Run River North sings the word child in the song Growing Up that actually strikes me as a perfect way to describe the way growing up has felt-
Growing up child, is just a matter of time
For giving all you’ve got
So won’t you dance under the sun
Along with the passing of time comes new milestones and new family members. It doesn’t always mean losing things. You gain a lot along the way.