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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Redefining "Second Childhood"

I like the old-fashioned sound of the word, "dotage," although I don't like its definition much with its connotations of decline, poor judgement and ill health. To be in one's dotage is not to be in a good place. There's another phrase I like even though I fear its meaning: "second childhood." It describes a stage of the old when they are as dependent as small children. Both dotage and second childhood suggest that dreaded state of dementia when old people are no longer in control of their thoughts and, therefore, their lives.

But what if we redefined second childhood to describe a phase in life when a person has the time and the strength to look at their first childhood seriously in order to make peace with the bad and sad of it and revel in the activities that gave them joy back then? What if we redefined it as the phase where we say,"I'm too old for that," in a defiant way as in "I'm too old for that shit," and think of it as a time to play as freely as we did - or wanted to - back then? As a time we jump over the need for success and material possession back to a place where our sense of right and wrong was the strongest? A second childhood where this time we have the power and means to do some good.

High horse thinking. I know. But those of us who can manage financially without the rigours of daily jobs should be capable of creative play, meaningful acts and more high horse thinking. We have that pause in our life to fill and what better way to fill it.

It's been a year since I left the institutional work force. It's been a year of settling in to a new rhythm of life, of settling into a new home and developing a garden that reminds me daily of the joys I experienced as a child growing up on a fruit farm. The mud, the taste of a hot tomato from the vine, the lost hours under a tree. They are all wonderful. My first childhood was a decent one. But, like every child, there were hurts and disappointments which I can reflect on as I pull weeds and plant trees. All the power and all the responsibility to make the most of life are mine in a second childhood.

Moving into the second year, I feel the need to be engaged again. I've no desire to be limited by the hours of a college instructor's schedule or the office politics of the journalist's world. I don't see myself going back to full-time work. But I miss the sense I was doing good for others - working on a story that matters like the current refugee crisis, helping non-Native speakers accomplish their goals in English. Like a child churning at a new stage of growth I am trying to figure my way through that now.

There was a recent article in The Atlantic on discovering the narrative of your life, of adjusting it, of finding its arc.What better stage of life to do that and what better source of material for the second childhood than the first. We can edit out what we didn't like, build on what was good and recreate the best. Only this time, the stakes are higher. In our second childhood, we don't have those seemingly endless years ahead as we did with the first. The last chapter is not that far away this time.

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