Stayin’ Alive

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Amoeba Music.

In this month’s installment of  “Now We Are 50,” a new monthly column, writer Christine Kouwenhoven explores the markers and the music that fill the stages of our lives.

Ever since we’ve lived in our home, we’ve had a small stereo in the kitchen. Every morning the radio is turned on and stays on all day, tuned to classical music. But evenings, at dinner, it is usually switched to someone’s phone to listen to a playlist, Spotify, or Pandora.

We are down from five DJs to three these days with our older two kids in college. Our youngest son knows, after all these years, what my husband and I gravitate to in music. So when he told us the other night that he had made a playlist for us, we should have looked forward to hearing tunes that we loved. And if it hadn’t been for his introduction, we would have listened to them with pleasure.

But somehow his declaration, “I made a playlist of songs that were popular back when you were alive” took the wind out of our sails.

To his credit, he felt terrible. “That’s not what I meant! I meant when you were young. When you were my age. It’s great music. I made the playlist for us. I didn’t mean to say that!”

I know he didn’t. At least that’s what I tell myself.

This is how I like to start sentences now to tease him: Back when I was alive. As if I am a zombie now. Or undead, inhabiting a world meant for those who are young. “Back when we were alive, yes, we did have phones with dials,” I say, answering one of his questions about the vintage gadgets, costumes, and cars on Stranger Things, the Netflix series we’re watching together.

Growing older is a gradual thing, and yet it manifests itself in sudden little bursts as well, especially in times of transition. There are mile markers along the road, different ones for different journeys. I must have noted some of them. When I got my first “real” job, when we bought our home. Big birthdays. When we had kids. Promotions. When those kids started school. 

But there was also a steady, busy time when the markers whirred by, unnoticed. The kitchen always a mess. So many meals, one after another. Homework, sports practices, meetings. Friends cycling through, wonderful, hungry kids crumbing the place up as soon as it was swept. Loud music, good music, old music, new music.

Now a big marker, painted in yellow, is flashing well within sight. My children are finishing school. They’re not even really “children” anymore.

Poof, my oldest is a senior in college already (By the way, the counselors should give you the heads up on that. All the hoopla about getting into a place they’ll be for literally a nanosecond).  And recently I attended my last K-12 Back-to-School night. “I can’t believe we’re here already,” I said to a fellow parent manning the desk. That my older kids would go to college I could handle – that my baby would didn’t seem possible.

He laughed. “I’m just helping parents read the schedules. A lot of them forgot their glasses.” Or maybe they were surprised they needed them. One of those subtle mile markers, reading glasses.

At fifty, I know I am not old. But sometimes the truth that I am no longer “young” is still a shocker. The songs on the playlist that my son made for us were so raw, so daring and vibrant when we first heard them years ago. A few notes can take us back in an instant to all the angst and anticipation of adolescence, to that particular kind of “aliveness.”

So I do understand what my son didn’t mean to say.

My kids are the young ones now. Not young in a kid-like way but young in the world-is-meant-for-me I-can-do-anything kind of way. The new songs, they’re pointed at them, at capturing that essence in notes and words and shouting it out as if no one else ever felt that way, as if they are the first ones, and somehow they’ll defy the inevitable. “We ain’t ever getting older” is the refrain of one of this summer’s biggest hits, repeated in a chant to a catchy beat that almost makes you believe it.

There are evenings in our house now that the classical music, elegant and quiet and stunning, stays on through dinner, our young DJ doing his homework with headphones on or out listening to something edgy and loud somewhere else.

But there are also evenings that we turn our own little stereo up full tilt. The “oldies” aren’t that to us. They are great songs, our songs. We dance and sing to them, do the dishes, and laugh. We ignore the mile markers, celebrate being here. We ARE alive, and thanks to the magic that is music, in some ways, we never do have to get older.

Christine Kouwenhoven is a local freelance writer. 

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  1. Love this and I can’t believe that Henry is a senior!!! When you need to feel young please come visit and walk with me….your older friend!!

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