Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teeter Totter

An older woman married to a younger man will inevitably watch him ascend to the top of his career while she is on the downhill side.

We’re not there yet — but it’s closer than I like to think about.

Since 1992, when I quit my job as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and lit out for Montana, Michael and I have traded “turns” in our professional lives. He followed me to Montana, giving up a job he loved for adventure in a place he’d never been with a woman he’d known for less than a year.

Next it was his turn. Four years in Arkansas. Then mine. Back to Montana.

During all those moves, our professional lives felt in sync. It helped that we had begun our journalism careers at roughly the same time, despite our age difference. When one of us had a reason to move (job offer, grad school, whim), the other found work. We were journalists, we were teachers; we were two train cars coupled and rolling along the same career track at the same pace.

Then Michael moved from journalism to creative writing — first the doing and then the teaching. I cheered him on, knowing it was his turn to pick where we would live next so he could do a thing he loved more than journalism. Maryland beckoned.

He moved. I followed, but it took me five months. I worried about giving up the security of a teaching job where I was on the cusp of tenure. In other words, my see-saw was still on the way up, and I was afraid it would plummet with a thunk in Maryland, tossing me either into an early retirement or a netherworld of scraping by on freelance work and adjunct teaching.

Worried for naught. A job found me, or I it. Full time. Teaching. Fine pay. Rewarding work. So far, so good. See-saw back on the upswing.

Well, here’s the honest thing. I love knowing that Michael’s headed for good things over many productive years. But I hate knowing that my up-up-and-away will slow before his, and that our trajectories, synchronized for so long, will start moving at different speeds.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good to have gotten that behind me

I’m 44-years-old now and have been waiting for the urges that signify a man’s mid-life crisis. The age seems right. Shouldn’t I be dumping the wife, trolling the dance clubs, or at least
contemplating a run for U.S. president?

Turns out I’m past all that. In a book titled
Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, two evolutionary psychologists explain that a man’s mid-life crisis is linked to his wife’s menopause. Write Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa in a piece they published on Psychology Today’s online site:

From the evolutionary psychological perspective, a man's midlife crisis is precipitated by his wife's imminent menopause and end of her reproductive career, and thus his renewed need to attract younger women. Accordingly, a 50-year-old man married to a 25-year-old woman would not go through a midlife crisis, while a 25-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman would, just like a more typical 50-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman.

With Barbie now turning 50, does this mean Ken is about to trade in his classic doll for an updated version -- say, a Pussycat Doll? Does this also explain why when I turned thirty and Sheri was 47 I had an ear pierced for the first and only time? Was that the full flush of my midlife crisis? What a rip off! Why didn’t I buy a BMW convertible? I was driving a used Chevy S-10 for cripes sake! It was GRAY!

Now it’s too late. I’m 44, drive a Honda Element and like to be asleep before Letterman comes on. My life is twisted.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Childlessness, Part 1

The other night, I stopped for a rack of ribs to-go and waited for them with nothing to do but page through a month-old issue of the National Enquirer.

Britney, celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, Michelle Obama’s dresses, the sorrows of Katie and Tom and toddler Suri ....

The only thing I actually read, though, was an item about how Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher plan to adopt a child. Said an anonymous source: “[A]fter all the disappointments and the IVF treatments, everyone is really excited that they are making their dream come true. It's a win-win situation.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Later
reports in US magazine and elsewhere noted that on a Twitter page believed to be Moore’s (but how can you be sure?), the 46-year-old movie star married to the 31-year-old movie star had denied the story. “Been asked all day so to clear up rumors,” read the tweet, “we are not adopting a child but what a gift if that at some time was something we wanted to do!”

I suspect the question of more children for Moore, and a first for Kutcher, is far more complicated than a tweet can express. And if it isn’t now, it might well become that way.

We didn’t adopt, either. We talked about adoption. I read about how it works, the tens of thousands of dollars required. I knew a couple who traveled to Brazil, only to have the birth mother change her mind. We had a small window: could we even be approved if Sheri was in her fifties and me in my thirties? Adoption seemed daunting, impossible, fraught with risk; I suppose, in its way, the dull, familiar ache of childlessness was easier.

When I fell in love with Sheri, I understood the likelihood that I’d never father a child. When I was 27, that was an acceptable sacrifice for a life with a woman as remarkable as Sheri.

Nearly twenty years later, I know I’ve missed out on something fundamental to human experience. Sheri has, too. Though I would not change a whit of my past if it meant losing Sheri, I sometimes try to understand who that young man was, and why he made the decisions he did. I question his motives, his wisdom. Was he selfish, not wanting to share his life with a child? Was he afraid of the responsibility? Was he immature?

Was I? Am I?

With age, I’ve found ways to bring children and young people into my life. I teach, of course, and I’ve enjoyed participating in the growth to adulthood of countless young people. I’m blessed to have a marvelous nephew and niece who live too far away and whom I wish could see more often.
I volunteered for nearly five years through Big Brothers, which brought into my life a wonderful boy who has grown into a young man I’m proud to call a friend.

All to the good. Though none of it fills a gap I feel only vaguely, that I can’t define. I see parents with children, I try to imagine how it must be. But I can’t. I’ve no frame of reference. What I know is what it means to be childless, and I know this status in a way parents never can.

In a poem called “The Block” from her book
Near Changes, the poet Mona Van Duyn opens with the line “Childless, we bought the big brick house on the block, / just in case. We walked the dog.”

Like the speaker in Van Duyn’s poem, we, too, have lived in neighborhoods full of children where instead of driving a van to a soccer game we walked dogs. We have walked three. Tinker is gone, euthanized in 1999. Kaimin is seven. Ozark, crippled and exhausted, will likely be dead this Tuesday. I’ve never treated our dogs as anything but dogs, but they are beloved dogs, and I wonder whether how I love them is something like how parents love children; both kinds of love grow for a creature that has depended on you and, sometimes, wanted to please you.

“The years bloomed by,” Van Duyn writes, “the old dogs were put to sleep. We bought a scoop to walk our new pup on his leash …”

"Then the long, warm, secret descent began
and we slid along with it. ‘We need a last dog,’ I said,
‘but I can’t face it.’ "