I remember thinking that when I got to a certain age, I would be married, have kids and be a total “adult.” These days, I’m questioning what it’s ever meant to be a grown up person and how I’ll finally ever feel like one. As the days roll on, I find myself worrying about whether I’m not taking things seriously enough and if maybe I’m allowing others to treat me as if I’m not a grown woman, like when I get scolded at work for saying something silly or inappropriate. I should probably stop that.
I thought I had it sorted out years ago when I began teaching and then moved into my own apartment. That adventure didn’t come without a few struggles, such as having my mother’s approval to leave the house and be on my own. She wasn’t kind about it at first but in her own way she figured out how to be supportive about me trying to do something new and huge for my life.
After that came the choice to live with the boyfriend I had at the time. I wasn’t into the idea at first because I personally didn’t want to live with someone to whom I wasn’t engaged, but I did it anyway. I thought I was ready for it considering that we’d dated for a year and had a pretty good rhythm of cooking dinner, watching our favorite TV shows before bed, and keeping ourselves busy with work and visiting our families on the weekends. It all seemed like the formula for adulthood at the time.
When we broke up and I moved out again, I had to take stock of my new surroundings. I would look to my coffee maker as one of many symbols of adulthood. I was excited about my mail coming in through a slot that I could check from my living room and I’d happily write up checks to pay my bills. But then I’d meet up for happy hour with friends and come home still feeling sort of like a child in an adult body. Despite being in charge of my own rent, car, bills, and groceries, there was something in me that still felt very much like I hadn’t grown up at all.
When my mom asked me to move back home again, I knew it wouldn’t be the best thing for me, but it happened with decent timing as I was laid off from work not long after I left my apartment. What better way to feel like a grown woman than to lose your job and have your family look at you like you’re not doing enough around the house, right? I took stock of all the hard work I’d put in during college and during the credential program and saw it all go to waste for a while. How was any of this supposed to make me feel like an adult if I was stuck at home while my brother and mom went off to work every morning?
I try to learn from my best friend who seems to have mastered a balance between staying a kid at heart but still taking care of business where it matters the most. She’s super smart, manages her money like a pro, and is married, a step that generally requires a great amount of maturity. And now that she’s embarking on motherhood, I’m incredibly excited but I’m also a tiny bit worried about whether I’m putting these things off for too long now that I’m about to turn thirty-one.
This world isn’t one that specifically explains what exactly it takes to be an adult and for everyone, growing up happens quite differently. I spent a lot of my younger years worrying about things that my friends at the time didn’t even think about. When my parents split up, I had to help take care of things at home like cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping. Most kids my age were going to the store to buy bags of Doritos, but when I was twelve, I was weighing bags of tomatoes on the scales in the produce section and cooking dinner a few times a week. Not that learning responsibilities is a bad thing, but sometimes I wanted to just do my homework and not stress over the floor not being spotless.
These days, I’ve seen myself ignore a lot of those responsibilities and every now and then I grab the pair of jeans off the floor that doesn’t have coffee stains on the knees.
It could be that the things in life that have hardened my heart are the same ones that motivate me to want to push my friends in shopping carts running full speed down the street. Maybe watching how bad things ended with my parents is what makes me not take men so seriously anymore because I’m afraid of promising a forever that I can’t keep. Maybe having to start over in my career has knocked me down so many notches that I have no idea what I’m really doing at the moment. I can laugh at very awful jokes and not take everything so seriously, but I do have to be mindful of the moments when I should simmer down and be careful with the feelings of others.
Sometimes it feels good to step away from my desk at work, grab a basketball and shoot some hoops before our students come out for recess. Maybe it would be dumb to think that having a better income or getting married and starting a family would make me more of an adult.
I think my pal Matty sums the feel of this quite well:
- Be a woman or man of your word. When you say you’ll do something, do it and don’t flake.
- Arrive to meetings on time (still working on this one).
- Pay back debts to people who loan money to you in good faith.
- Give back the books you borrow.
- Give someone gas money when they give you a ride to and from the airport.
- Tell your caretakers that you are thankful for them.
- Cook dinner for friends and family.
- Keep your car clean, inside and out.
- Don’t withdraw money from your bank account if you know it will cause you to be overdrawn.
- Learn how to balance a checking account whether on Excel or on a paper ledger. No excuses. Basic math is BASIC.
There are times when I look in the mirror and still see the kid who used to wash her face with Noxzema and who couldn’t control her huge, frizzy hair. Then some nights, with the right amount of makeup, I can almost pull off looking like I know what I’m doing and where I am going with all of this life I have ahead of me.
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