Tonight, I sent off my not-so-little brother to his high school Homecoming dance. Even though he was in full “cool and aloof teenager” mode, I watched him button up his blazer and press down his out-of-control cowlick with unusual attention. And as we were preparing to leave, I noticed him perched on the very edge of the couch, jiggling his spiffy dress shoes and holding his plastic corsage box with exquisite care.
“Are you excited?” I asked. (Note: I’m learning that this is a surefire way to bring any conversation with a teenage boy to a grinding halt, but I had to ask anyway).
He paused. “I guess.”
“Are you nervous?” (I am really pushing my luck here with these questions).
He shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s no reason to be nervous.” (Hmm. I do not need a handbook on teenage-speak to decipher what this means).
As my not-excited, not-nervous brother fidgeted and straightened his tie, my heart twinged. And not just because I haven’t mentally processed the fact that he’s no longer five years old and playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. (Please do not ask me why my eyes are watering. I have allergies, okay? I don’t want to talk about it). Watching him, I had a rush of nostalgia for that kind of anxious, nervous excitement.
I am not, in any way, pining for the awkward, hormonal hot mess that was high school dances. Nor am I having a “Glory Days” moment; I do not labor under the illusion that high school was the best days of our lives. What I do miss is the time in my life when excitement was a regularly scheduled part of my calendar.
I read a thought by Tina Fey recently that the main difference between childhood and adulthood is that you are responsible for marking your own transitions. As a child, for the most part, we abide by a certain schedule of growth: moving up the grades, graduation, sometimes college. Then, we are deposited into this transition-less void. We are responsible for saying when we’re ready for another job, another opportunity, another goal. This is how so many young adults (and not-so-young adults, for that matter) end up stuck in a job, relationship, or lifestyle that they’ve outgrown.
I feel the same about celebration and excitement. We grow up surrounded by a structure of celebrations and milestones and festivities, be they high school dances or graduations or dance recitals or even just the ends of school years. Even the shyest children (me) and most awkward children (me) who might otherwise shy away from celebration are embraced by this structure. We cannot forget to celebrate life because these celebrations are pre-programmed into our calendars.
But then, we are deposited into the void. The void where we get so busy, we easily forget to mark the passage of time. The void where we might let months go by without feeling that anxious, nervous excitement that precedes a long-awaited event. Sure, we still have holidays, but at some point, holidays turn from “the most wonderful time of the year” to “the most stressful time of the year.” And the rest of the year, we get so consumed by our lives that we rarely take pause for excitement, anticipation, or celebration.
Watching my brother, I wondered, “When was the last time I felt that anxious excitement?”
I don’t labor under any dark generalizations about the “foolish joys of youth” gone by. I think grown women and men are just as capable of feeling the same giddy excitement as children. The trouble is, we forget about it, especially when we’re experiencing depression or grief.
We no longer have built-in reminders to celebrate the life that is whooshing by. We have to make our own.
This looks different for everyone. For me, this means making the effort to coordinate a reunion of geographically-scattered friends. This means forming new traditions to mark the beautiful turning of the seasons. This means going on a date(!). This means planning big, scary, awesome professional projects (!). This means celebrating random holidays with none of the attached stress (I mean, the upcoming week holds Nachos Day, Clean Up the Earth Day, and the inexplicable National Knee Day – what more do you need?).
Today, I’m off to find that giggly, anxious excitement I forgot somewhere along the road. I am making my own celebrations.