From Our Readers
September 20, 2014 7:00 am

Last week, as I lay sweating beneath a pile of crumpled bank statements and medical records dug out from the single drawer into which I haphazardly shove important documents, I realized the question wasn’t really, “Where is the title to my car that I’m supposed to trade in today?” but rather, “When am I going to start feeling like an adult?”

I keep thinking there’s going to be an age or a life event that turns me into a real grownup, and it hasn’t happened yet. In high school, I thought it would be college. In college, I thought it would be graduation. After graduation, I thought it would be having a full-time job or writing my first rent check. When my Zac Efron crush persisted throughout my 20s despite these new fiscal responsibilities and my subsequent marriage, I figured turning 30 would be the game changer. Here I am, though, 30 and a quarter, losing stuff, shopping in the junior’s section and quoting Mean Girls.

Speaking of girls, that’s still how I refer to myself and my friends (males are “boys”). I nap on the regular, I’ve never done my own taxes, and I’m still on my parents’ phone plan, though I do mail them a check within four or five weeks of them asking me for it the second or third time.

On the other hand, I wear sunscreen and sometimes watch what I eat for health reasons, and my husband and I on occasion discuss adulty things like life insurance and homeownership.

I have the resumé of a grownup, the responsibilities of a grownup, the professional capabilities of a grownup, but the taste and hygiene habits of a pre-teen, and I just want to know whether that’s OK.

Things that should make me feel like an adult but don’t:

  1. Being 30.
  2. Being married.
  3. Working.

Things that suggest I’m not quite there yet:

  1. Wearing Wonderstruck. (Taylor Swift’s perfume. If you didn’t know that, you might be an adult.)
  2. The flattened Hot Tamales boxes in my purse.
  3. My Netflix history.

Things that actually make me feel like an adult:

  1. Using one of those giant, silver dashboard sun shields.
  2. The cast of Full House reuniting for the show’s 25th anniversary.
  3. What’s Snapchat?

In the words of Britney Spears, whose intergenerational popularity doesn’t help my disorientation: I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.

This year, I began teaching college freshmen, and nothing makes me feel more age ambiguous than spending my days with 18 year olds. I make them call me Ms. Shiman to establish myself as an authority figure, but I also give a lot of high fives and during discussions engage with intellectual terminology like “totes” and “hilar.”

From this, only two conclusions can be drawn:

  1. I’m a cool teacher.
  2. I’m Regina George’s mom.

What’s the 411? What has everybody been up to? What’s the hot gossip?

Recently, a student referenced a statistic from a reading, asserting that low odds are better than nothing. I saw my opportunity and bellowed:

“So you’re SAYIN’ there’s a chance!”

And. . . crickets.

“I guess that movie was made the year you were born,” I said as I died a quiet death.

Suddenly, a chorus: “You mean Dumb and Dumber?”

They’d seen the movie! And they still didn’t laugh! What does that mean? Was it my delivery? Am I too old to be funny?

I want my students to love me. I want them to think I’m fun and hilar. But also, and more so, I want them to respect me, to understand that I’m in charge not only because I’m older, but also because, as a former journalist, as a writer, as someone who cares about their education and their wellbeing, I have something to offer.

And I wonder: Will parenting be like this, finding the balance between friend and authority-slash-role model?

Am I ready for that?

Is having a baby, something I hope will happen sooner rather than later, going to flip the elusive switch between kid and adult?

Do I want it to?

Whatever. I’m getting cheese fries.

Risa Polansky Shiman is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Florida Atlantic University, where she also teaches. She recently performed at Lip Service, a South Florida storytelling series, and her written work has run in publications such as the Brevity blog, Harlot, and Miami Today. Find her on Twitter @RisaAriel, or at home in Delray Beach, eating Chipotle in her pajamas.

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