A lifestyle magazine recently posed the question, “When was the moment you knew you were finally a grownup?” For me the answer was simple: I’m still waiting. I thought I had it the other day when I realized I was walking out of Walmart carrying a twenty-four roll pack of toilet paper in broad daylight, but then I went home and took a few clandestine bites from the bag of chocolates I’d been hiding under the bathroom sink, so I probably have a ways to go.
Being a grownup is slippery. As a gawky teen, I thought I knew all the indicators – job, car, house, children. As soon as I got all of those things I would surely be a bona fide adult. But, at age thirty I found myself with a house and a job and a car and two children and a puppy that needed to be house trained and I still felt as lost as I had when I was stumbling (literally) through cheerleader tryouts. Maybe more.
I wasn’t even sure how I got there. One day I was a college student just hoping my psych test didn’t fall on the wrong side of the grading curve and the next I was a certified teacher. My friends, people who I’d seen knock back a brewsky or two, were being dubbed accountants and architects and (shudder) doctors. Really? Just like that? Were the registrars absolutely sure?
After graduation, I secured a teaching position and the principal stuck me in front of twenty-five five year olds where I was expected to be the grownup in charge. Did I feel like a grownup? No. I was certainly the tallest person in the room, but height can be deceiving.
Along the way, I married and had children, two beautiful little girls who looked up to me (they were shorter, too) and expected me to know about things like car seats and recommended daily allowances and whether they needed the cough syrup with the expectorant or the decongestant. Poor, poor kids. Still, I did what I could. I knew what being a grownup looked like, so I went out and bought warm winter jackets and socks with the reinforced toes. I packed yogurt and carrot sticks for lunch. I paid my bills. I carted my children to piano lessons and Girl Scouts and chaperoned the occasional field trip. (Okay, I only did that once. It takes a special kind of grownup to deal with a bus load of fifth graders.) What I’m trying to say is that where and when I could I acted like I knew I was supposed to. Like a grownup. And every day, I felt like a fraud, someone clomping around the house in her mother’s hat and high heels.
It all looked so simple from the kids’ table. Grownups were completely in control. They knew all the answers. That certainly wasn’t true for me. In fact, every passing year brought more questions. Why? How? And once again, Why?
Yes, there were good things about being a grownup, but when things got tough, like dealing with economic indicators and family illness and putting our aged dog to sleep, having to be a grownup was no fun at all. It was gut wrenching and exhausting and part of me was desperately looking for the exit. I could have bailed, gone all Peter Pan on the situation, but it just wasn’t in me. Not anymore.
Maybe that’s what being a grownup is all about, Charlie Brown, showing up, staying in the front lines even when you’re not the tallest one in the room. Good thing. I had my physical the other day and it turns out I’m getting shorter. Still, I did make that power walk to the car with the toilet paper. Hopefully, it will all balance out.