Crises are not just for middle age

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Racing down Fifth Avenue, through the gauntlet of cheering spectators, into Central Park, passing the flags and grandstands, throwing my arms up high, I finished my first marathon last week. It was great. I felt the high and did something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’ve been talking about the experience with everyone I know, getting praise and pats on the back. At 47, you could call it a mid-life crisis, a pre-mid-life crisis or just a desire for sore knees.

My older daughter, at 15, wants to try boxing. What’s with that? What teenage girl wants to get her face pounded and bloody? I think she imagines a triumphant scene — three quick punches and a big uppercut sending her opponent down for the count, the crowd goes wild, her arms wave high in the air as she’s announced the winner.

My 12-year-old wants to build a computer, maybe out of paperclips or other unusual materials, winning the Westinghouse Science Fair and a big college scholarship, an article in the paper, fame.

The three of us are all looking for new challenges to take on, get caught up in, give us a rush of excitement. It’s not tween/teen and mid-life crises we’re in, not some life-cycle emotional distress nor are we adrenaline junkies.

I think it all starts in babyhood when we achieve a new, major life skill every couple of months. Sitting up, eating Cheerios, speaking, walking, navigating a slide, these are HUGE things when they happen and you get tremendous praise and attention for each achievement from everyone, aunts, uncles, grandparents, strangers in Key Food and Connecticut Muffin.

But then it happens less and less. Your opportunity to learn new things is reduced. The charge and buzz of accomplishment slows to a trickle and we miss it.

My girls have lists of things they want to try and do. In addition to playing Rocky, the older one really wants to hike in Bolivia, learn to play the bassoon and speak Russian. The younger one wants to climb all the Adirondack high peaks, speak Italian and play saxophone.

I cherish their desire for adventure and exploration. I also see that each experience they begin starts with the rush of newness until they hit that first learning plateau. The first time I hit a golf ball and watched it sailing away I thought, this is easy, I could be the next Jack Nicklaus. When my next few swings sent balls curving gracefully into trees, water and my fellow golfers, my aspirations came back to Earth.

And my girls’, too. Some things have taken hold and found a place in their lives — knitting, softball, flute, gymnastics — and others fill the basement and closets with skateboards, pottery and the starts of collections like stamps and pennies. Some things get boring or hard and others feed the ego and imagination.

It’s the same for my girls as it is for me. We each want the pleasure of something new. It can be as simple as a book. I remember my daughters (and me) salivating for each next Harry Potter book as their release neared, then reading them compulsively until reaching the final word.

For me, I don’t know what’s next. My life list includes many mundane things like cleaning out the basement, but I’ve got my eyes open for the next adventure.

For my daughter, I’ve found out about boxing lessons for teenagers. I don’t relish the sight of 16-ounce gloves smashing into my child’s body, but I understand what she’s looking for and if it’s not this, it will be something else. We’ll see if her gear ends up in the basement or in a locker at a gym.

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Reasonable discourse

Chris from Boerum Hill says:
Smartmom's subjects were getting old, but at least she could write a snappy sentence with humor. The Paper has replaced her with the two dullest plodders I've ever come across in a column.
Nov. 23, 2010, 1:54 am

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