This past weekend, I had the joy of working with a group of teenagers from around the country. They were here to participate in a leadership weekend and become the first ever Youth Board for the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association. CMT is the disability that the youth and I all share. 9 totally different kids. And yet they all were of the finest kind. Energetic, kind, insightful. Just good kids. When I returned home on Sunday night, I was happy. Partially because I had spent the weekend with teenagers that make you feel hopeful about the future. And partially because it’s just fun to hang out with kids.
I have worked with youth of all ages for my entire career. And in addition to the many reasons why I love my work, I think the reason why it works for me is that I am a kid inside. Always have been. As I grew into adulthood and now in my late 40’s, I became aware that I was still connected to the child inside. This is the very reason for some of my biggest challenges as an adult, as well as the inspiration for some of my best qualities. I see the world through kid eyes. It’s what makes me effective in the work I do. It’s also what makes it hard for me to consistently fulfill all of the adult requirements to their typical standard.
My amazing wife and I share a 16.5 year age difference. I am 47 and she is 30. About 2 years into our dating phase, we took an emotional age quiz. She scored a 38 and I scored a 23. The number of a person’s age has never carried much weight for me. I have known 13-year-olds who are more serious than any adult I have met. And I have known senior citizens who acted as though the world were a playground. I have always had friends of different ages. Life is just more interesting that way. Working consistently with youth allows me to stay tapped into the youthful perspective. Some of which I cherish and some of which make me feel thankful to be an adult. This proximity allows me to keep a partial ear on current music. I don’t like it all, but I like to know what a kid in modern times is listening to. I like to hear their music, and I like to play them some of my favs. I remember my Grandpop once asked me to make him a mix of my favorite songs. I always respected that. I knew he probably wouldn’t connect with a lot of them, but I found it amazing that he wanted to hear them anyway. It is this attitude that allows you to never fully disconnect from the evolution of time.
I have a daughter now. And she is going to grow up in a time that is completely different than the time I grew up in. I am going to be in my 50’s as she comes into her own. On paper, the odds of us connecting are stacked against. And yet, my years of youth work and a staunch history of devout immaturity, will hopefully allow me to defy the odds and stay open to her strange and wonderful ways. At the very least, I hope to always keep that quality about myself, and in the process, teach sweet Amelia the value in all ages. In staying connected to those older and younger than you throughout your life.
I have always been so against our cultures’ take on age. We live in reverse of how it ought to be. My teens were great. My 20’s were amazing. And yet, my 30’s blew them away. And my 40’s, thus far, are on pace to do the same. Life gets richer and more filled with wisdom as you get older. You learn as you go, try not to repeat mistakes, and keep improving. The key, as taught to me by my Grandpop, is never to lose touch with the child inside. Is to stay open and keep evolving. One great way I have found to accomplish that very task is to work with kids. They keep things interesting, real, and fun. The three qualities I prefer to have in every part of my life. When I turn 80 one day, I’m gonna take that emotional age quiz again. Who knows, maybe I’ll score a 30!