I spent a great deal of time in the 90s mixing and layering paints, trying to get the perfect patina on the walls of my place. I sponged and textured with cellophane, newspaper, brooms. I don’t know if there was a conscious thought to it, maybe we were trying to create the perfectly weathered cottage in a small southern French village.

But now I realize living with kids is all it takes to achieve that beaten, worn variation of color and tone we were looking for. Except for the stray basketball or nerf gun scrape near the ceiling, the effect is concentrated from the baseboard to maybe three foot 6 inches up the wall, on every inch of the house.

Of course the styles have changed. Long ago I had to get rid of my granite-spray paint textured torchiere lamps and end table, which for awhile were just about my best things, outdone only by the butterfly chairs donated to me by my friend Kenny. (Nobody who knows Kenny, and me, will be surprised that his castoffs are still the most tasteful things I own.)

I guess it’s in the nature of things, this ceaseless moving target of the just out of reach, not yet acquired. For so long the seemingly impossible dream of fatherhood was both a powerful motivator and painful lack. I could feel the absence of kids in my life, viscerally. And then suddenly, by their nature, the kids made their presence felt pretty viscerally as well. For some years it was a sort of scrambled panic, an exhausting, joy-tinged mania to keep up or catch up, or maybe just not to throw up. But time moves forward.

I was shocked, the other day in Target, to feel a pang of longing watching a mom with her preschooler. What? This is a dream I’ve lived, a goal I achieved. I did it! (And just in time. Not a job for a late middle-age dude!) But as my youngest grows out of little boy territory, I can feel the tug of the past, or the path untaken. The yearning for what I don’t have.

3rd graders and 7th graders need something different from me, and while I think my main role will continue to be “dad” for years, sometimes the kids are set, on their own, and not needing me every minute. I’ve read 20 books so far this year, for crying out loud! I’m getting a tiny semblance of a life back.

Which is terrifying, and lovely.

And it leaves me wishing, as usual, that I could be more in the moment. Wishing that things didn’t always feel just out of reach, over the horizon.

But try as I might, I find myself sitting in a moment of peace, gazing at the finely distressed walls, thinking. Is it time for fresh paint?