Things you do when you are an adult

I am turning 39 this summer.  I have a 10 year old and an 8 year old.  I drive an SUV, own a house, have been married almost 13 years, and have a graduate degree.  It’s pretty hard to deny that I’m an adult.  I’m constantly surprised, however, by what it takes to make me feel like a grown up.

Some of the realization comes in the Big Moments.

This past summer I sat at the funeral of my last grandparent, and felt the ferris wheel hitch forward and the car I’m sitting in lurch closer to the top.  I have watched friends lose both parents and pregnancies.  I’ve seen the way illness and misfortune –  mostly in the shape of cancer, in my life – can strike suddenly, shockingly, and leave everyone who witnesses it reeling.

But, truthfully, a lot of the a-has happen in the Small Moments.

It is the night I went out to dinner with a friend and learned that her husband had forgotten the stickers with which her son was supposed to make Valentine’s for his class in Vermont.  It was February 13th.  We drove by my house on the way home and I ran upstairs to gather up all of our leftover stickers, and brought them down to her.

It is the ease with which I cook for my children now, and way I feel my own mother’s hands guiding my own as I move casually around the kitchen.

It is the quiet hum inside the car when Matt, Grace, Whit and I are driving, after dinner, to New Hampshire to ski with friends and I realize that everything I care about most in the world – everything I truly need – is in this darkened car.

It is reading the alumni magazines of my high school, college, and business school classes, and noticing what my peers are doing: CEOs and Congressmen and heads of departments at hospitals.  It is taking my daughter, with a broken collarbone, to see an orthopedist who is the younger brother of a friend from high school.

It is driving through Harvard Square on move-in day and wondering aloud to my husband that the college freshman are closer to our childrens’ age.  It is his baffled response: “That has been true for a while now, Linds.”

I suspect I’m not alone in this disbelief about my age.  Is it too scary, to accurately locate myself on life’s ferris wheel?  I write about that wheel all the time, about nearing the top, about how gorgeous the view is from here, about how I can see ahead and how quickly we’ll descend.  And I do believe that, and feel it – fervently, truthfully, often.  But at the same time I struggle to accept that I am actually almost 40.  I still think of my parents as 40; it was only five minutes ago that I ran around the back yard in a sundress while my handsome father, smiling under his brown mustache, gazed at his birthday windsurfer leaning against the wall of our house.  How can that be almost thirty years ago?

What is this about?  Is it stubborn denial?  Do we all still think of ourselves as 18?  The aches in my back, weakness in my knee, and wrinkles on my face all speak to my actual age.  As do the, you know, children.  And yet.  And still.  In my head I’m always eighteen, dancing in the late-day sun amid a swirl of magnolias with the women who knew me then and still know me best.

Do you feel like a grown-up?  Why or why not?



71 thoughts on “Things you do when you are an adult”

  1. Your writing is as gorgeous as always, dear Lindsey!

    My experience, though, is so different. I felt too serious, too adult, as a child, as if I was born 30 years old. When I turned 30 I finally began to feel at home in my skin and vowed to be more young, more childlike, as much as I could.

    Yes, there have been those moments of realization – the worst was when it suddenly occurred to me that both of our dogs *and* both of our cats are technically geriatric, and the sense of foreboding and wishing for nothing to change that came with that.

    But what I have really learned is how available Wonder and Beauty are to us, each and every moment. It feels childlike in its simplicity to become lost in the beauty of a flower or a butterfly, but I’ll happily be late for a meeting, or lose the serious adult conversation to do just that.

    Adult? yes. Grown up? Only as much as I need to be.

    Hugs and butterflies,

  2. Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said: “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened.” That is how I feel about growing old AND adulthood.

  3. I know exactly what you mean. I find those moments almost unbearably bittersweet, sometimes – the weight of all that will never come again presses on me such that I can’t breathe, but at the same time I am overwhelmingly grateful to have such memories.

  4. I love what you say about wonder and beauty – perhaps that is one of the main tasks of adulthood, realizing with that childlike sense of openness how each is available in almost every moment. xoxo

  5. Whenever a smoke detector/toy/computer mouse/flashlight runs out of batteries, and I casually go down to the basement to get new batteries – *whatever the size* – from my basket of batteries, I am struck with the feeling that I must surely be an adult, though I almost never feel it. Today I was biking along on my single speed, feeling so free and definitely closer to 10 years old than 40 years old, and then suddenly wondered if it looked weird to pedestrians that this middle aged person was pumping along so gleefully.

  6. Sometimes I get looks that make me wonder the same on the swing at the playground. Swinging is one of the great joys for me!! Not so adult, that, I guess …

  7. Hi Ladies,
    I am the editor of an antholgy written by 40 women who are within a year of turning 40. I have 8 spaces left if any of you writers are interested in talking to me about joining in. : )

  8. Oh, the reading of the alumni from engineering/business school gets me too. I still feel like a kid who just graduated not too long ago! I feel most like an “adult” when filing my taxes and most like a “kid” when my 7 yr old and I are giggling hysterically on his bed.

  9. What a thoughtful post. You know, I don’t really relate to my 18-year old self at all anymore. I had so much to learn at that age, so much yet to see. Same with my college self. I feel a lot of that learning was completed as I rounded out my 20s. And my 30s has definitely been the decade where I’ve felt most comfortable in my own self, felt most complete as a human being. I will turn 40 this winter and I’m not sure what to think. By that time, our son will be three and so much of our world is focused on him and all the milestones he reaches that I sometimes forget that I’m still growing older, too.

  10. I too will be 39 soon, and never felt completely like an adult until I had my first child at age 29. I had been married for 5 years by that point and even with being a wife, I never fully felt like an adult. Still now, the adult feeling is fleeting. I think inside I will always feel like somewhere between 20 and 25…only much wiser 🙂

  11. I think that’s the range I’ll always feel, too. I’m still figuring out if I feel wiser, or if that was just all an illusion! 🙂

  12. I know – we can be so focused on them that we forget us, don’t you think? In so many senses of the word. xox

  13. My husband and I were just laughing about this subject the other day. My son is 16 months old, I’m 34 and my husband is 37. We have a very sweet babysitter who is 18 and just graduated high school. We communicate with her via text because it’S just easier.I was looking at her twitter feed the other day (which is not private, someone should prob tell her that). Every tweet was just teenage inside jokes, harmless stuff… until I got to May 29, which said “I hate texting adults! #Awkward” I immediately went back through my texts with her looking at the dates, was it me!? Is it true am I an ADULT to an 18 year old!? I texted my husband and gave him the date…just as we thought, it was him! He was the adult! Noooo! Are we really adults to a senior in high school? This realization got me thinking, I don’t consider myself old enough to be an adult. But younger people do. When did this transformation occur? Was it when we got married? Was it when we bought our house? Was it when we refinanced our house? Was it when our son was born? Was it the first “No!” said to a toddler? We both are still wondering, but has a good belly laugh trying to figure it out.

  14. Oh, I’m laughing. I definitely have had moments when I realize my college-aged babysitters, whom I think of as being closer to my age than my kids’, are for sure not at ALL my age. xo

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