Aaron Traister shares his awkward attempts to stave off mid-life.
I just turned 32. I haven’t had my first real health scare or pork related coronary incident, I still have some of my hair, my attire doesn’t mark me as being totally out of touch, my wife and I have a healthy and active sex life, and my kids aren’t old enough to resent me for forcing them to listen to Tool and 2 Live Crew on the Oldies station as I ferry them around in the family minivan. I don’t even have a minivan, but there’s no denying the minivan-esque-restlessness that’s begun to invade my life.
The symptoms were mild at first. I began turning up the volume and rolling down the windows of my Honda Element every time I heard T-Pain and Maino’s “All the Above” on the radio. That was the first big red flag I missed. It also may have inadvertently proved that I was slightly older and more out of touch than I liked to believe, as evidenced by the fact that NBC used the same song to promote the return of its 10 pm shows after Leno’s departure from the timeslot. If “All the Above” was deemed palatable enough to herald the return of Law and Order Trans-Fat-Detection-Unit then I have to believe that the song might be pretty uncool to everyone under the age of about 31… or perhaps 50… or perhaps everyone except me.
I grew a mustache like the young musicians I saw on the computer (it was a creepy, creepy mustache) and, while I wouldn’t describe them as “skinny,” my jeans certainly got much tighter than the baggy-mid-90s-Dr. Dre-video-inspired-pants of my youth.
My wife kept her legs firmly closed until my mustache morphed into something that was a little more acceptable to society than the “70s -porn-actor-tribute-stache” that was covering my upper lip, and I kept splitting the seat of my fancy new pants, so I was grudgingly forced to return to the reinforced stitching and security of my trusty Carhartts. I’ll see you in hell Express for Men.
During my moments away from my family, I began to gravitate to areas of Philadelphia where cool young people were known to frequent, areas that in my youth were the gritty-crime-ridden backdrops for books by Steve Lopez, but were now full of Low Brow art galleries and bicycle shops. Amongst the vintage banana-seated-Schwinns of yesteryear and Heavy Metal Magazine-graffiti-inspired-canvases of today, I found a coffee shop that was furnished with second-hand couches and sold “vegan brownies” which to my ears, sounded vaguely ethnic, and just a little dangerous. I began writing at my counterculture-coffee-shop whenever I could. I felt cool. I felt like a real French-guy.
I guess some of the natives thought I was a French-guy too. During one visit a young woman approached me as I ate my “vegan brownie” and tried to strike up a conversation. I think she was flirting she said something about the two of us sharing a “wireless connection”. She was hot too. I began talking about my wife and kids.
Apparently, my game is a little rusty.
That’s fine, while very flattering, I didn’t really feel like I needed anything more than the attention the young woman had already paid me which was further proof that I was really comfortable with where I was in my life.
I did not need a younger woman.
No, all I needed was a tattoo. In fact, I needed two tattoos, one on either wrist, and it had nothing to do with being insecure about anything and had everything to do with getting in touch with my inner-bohemian.
I excitedly explained to my wife that my future tattoos would be the first letter of each of our children’s names—they’d be minimalist, black, and totally awesome. My wife looked at me skeptically and I felt a sudden need to defend the legitimacy of my future tattoos. My tattoos were no mere whim, no Chinese symbol for rain or the acronym for Taking Care of Business encased in a lightning bolt. They would be tasteful, they would be thoughtful; they would mean something to me… to us.
These tattoos would be a tribute to our children, to our family; they would be a permanent testament to my priorities, these tattoos would pay homage to my responsibility and my adulthood. In fact, my only real concern regarding my body ornamentation was about the composition; the first letters of my kids’ first names are N and J, and I wanted to make sure that no one would confuse my family tribute with some sort of hardcore homage to the Garden State.
Once I had explained all this to my wife she stared at me for a moment, almost like she was trying to search for some evidence that I’d suffered a severe injury to my brain, she then returned to her Eating Well Magazine without saying a word.
My wife’s response rattled me.
Over the next several days, since my wife was trying to ignore and avoid me, I was forced to ask myself “why now”?
I had spent my entire life tattoo free, what was the point of getting a pair now? Well, I’d always played around with the idea I’d just never been able to afford them before. For the first time in my life, I was making a little bit of extra cash, my kids no longer needed constant supervision so I was getting a little more free time, and since I was spending that free time listening to T-Pain and eating new-fangled-baked-goods at a coffee shop with Xeroxed posters for a weekly gay-and-lesbian-drum-circle, why shouldn’t I treat myself and get some sick tats to go with my kickass lifestyle?
And, I reasoned, while I was taking it to another level, why shouldn’t my wife get in on this hot rock n’ roll action? “You know, I was thinking maybe you should get your nipples pierced… ”
It had all sounded so good, so logical, in my head. The words had fallen from my mouth only moments before and yet the sensation that someone had slammed on the brakes was immediately palpable. Mr. Toad’s wild ride was nearing its inevitable conclusion.
I had sat on my gem of an epiphany for several days just waiting for the right moment to reveal its brilliance to my wife. While she was folding her laundry, watching a Tivoed episode of General Hospital seemed like as good a time as any to dazzle her.
Lemme just take a minute here and offer a little piece of advice to all the fellas out there; it’s one of the few things I’ve learned from this experience:
There may not be a right time to tell the mother of your children you think she should get her nipples pierced. That may be a decision she needs to come to for herself… organically.
In this case, my suggestion wasn’t totally out of left field, at least not in my mind. My wife looks like the kind of woman who could really work a pair of pierced nipples… you know… what with her tattoos… and crazy hair and clothes?
Sadly, I’m repeating almost verbatim what I said to my wife after my nipple piercing suggestion was met with an icy glare and the complete absence of any sound.
She waited patiently until I had settled down and stopped flailing.
She then told me that, in fact, she was a nipple piercing kind of woman, in 1995 (I felt only slightly vindicated). My wife went on to explain that while I had spent the mid to late nineties figuring out new ways to get stoned, she had spent the mid to late nineties figuring out new ways to experience life. One of the things she experienced was a loss of sensation in her nipples after she had them pierced, the feeling returned once she had the piercings removed. She made it clear that she was not about to sacrifice or even decrease her nipples’ sensitivity because of my increased sensitivity about getting older.
She spoke slowly to make sure I absorbed everything she was saying, her body was not going to be my ego boost. I was free to manipulate myself in whatever manner I chose, without commentary or judgment from her, but she was not going to pierce, shave, tattoo, or brand any part of herself, public or private because I was in the throes of a mid-life crisis.
A mid-life crisis. She was right. Somehow I hadn’t put it together until I heard the words come out of her mouth. When I thought of mid-life crisis I thought of doughy dudes in risky business sunglasses cruising around with girls half their age in Dodge Chargers, the windows rolled up in an attempt to protect their new hair plugs. I’m not that guy; I shave my head.
My wife and I just shared our 8th anniversary. I was 22 when we met, 23 when we were married, and 27 when we had our first child. By our generation’s standards, we did things young, at least anecdotally speaking.
In many ways, the last eight years have felt like my wife and I were exploring undiscovered new landscapes because we didn’t have any friends who were married, or who were buying houses, or who were pregnant, or who were dealing with the ups and downs of new being parents. We had no examples; we had no support group of people in a similar situation. We’ve been doing all this on a frayed shoestring of a budget. It felt like the two of us against the world; we were off the map and forced to rely on each other’s sense of direction to find the destination.
It feels like I suddenly woke up to discover that we’re right where we’re supposed to be. I’m 32 with a house and two young kids and dog and some sort of amorphous version of a career and I’ve been married eight years, and everyone else I know is in the exact same situation. I don’t want younger women or to blow up my family life in an effort to relive glory days that were never really that glory filled.