A recent episode of “This American Life” got me thinking about when I felt like an adult. They were discussing the topic, and referenced the Rookie Magazine column, “Ask a Grown Man.” Which by the way is awesome.
I was listening to this as I was doing errands, and had one of those NPR parking lot moments where I ended up sitting in my car for a good ten minutes waiting to hear what happened.
As I strolled the aisles of my local Stop and Shop, I kept pondering, thinking, when did I feel like a grown woman? Was it when I first had sex? No. Went to college? Um, no, as evidenced by my frequent, teary calls to my mom wanting to come home. Was it when I moved in with my boyfriend? Got married? Had my first baby?
What I realized as I kept thinking, was all these things made me think I was an adult, but I wasn’t nearly as grown up as I thought. When I got married at the ripe old age of 20 I thought I knew everything. Don’t most 20-year-olds? You don’t have to look far beyond a fight with my then-husband where I threw my favorite frying pan across the floor (forever denting it) and then tearfully began packing a suitcase to go home to my mom to see I certainly was not a grown woman.
I truly don’t think I felt like a grown woman until my 40s. Does that make me pathetic? And looking at it as objectively as I can, which means not at all, it was the difficult times that made me an adult. It was the situations that no one could fix that grew me up.
When my marriage ended when I was 41 I was terrified and at the same time slightly exhilarated. The floor next to my bed, thanks to Oprah, looked like a self-help lending library. Pre-podcasts I listened to cassettes of writers like Carolyn Myss who helped grow me up and take a hard look at who the boss of my life was. I was becoming an actual adult.
Lest you think I was this irresponsible dolt raising three children prior to this growth spurt, I was not. I was responsible, loving and there for my kids. This growth was internal. From the outside I looked the same, but I was growing into someone who had a deeper sense of self, something that I don’t believe comes until you’ve been knocked around by life a bit.
A year before my mom died she and I were out having coffee one day. My cellphone kept ringing and I kept going outside to take the calls. They were from my oldest son, who at the time was a heroin addict, out in Colorado, wanting to come back to get help. He had no money, was strung out and asked me to help get him home. The calls were all about the details of me wiring him money, and making plans to get him home. As I drove my mom and I to a nearby supermarket that had a Western Union counter, she told me she could never have handled all I’d gone through with my son. I hadn’t ever thought about what I was doing then, or the year prior that was all about rehab, overdoses, and trying to get him well. I just did what I had to do.
I believe those are the moments that make you an adult. When it’s no longer about you. You don’t really even factor in. To me being an adult is being able to put yourself aside for the good of someone else. This doesn’t mean it never gets to be about you, that would make being an adult completely suck. No, it means it’s not always about you, and you’re okay with that.
There are days where being an adult kind of stinks and I wish someone else could take care of the things I don’t want to. To be taken care of. But it’s also pretty awesome too. Like being a grown woman enables me to speak up, to say no, and feel (mostly) good in my own skin. It means not needing everyone to like me (mostly) and feeling happy in my life.
I no longer have a mom to run home to when the going gets rough, and I sometimes miss that. But, I have a team, people whom I love and who love me who are there. Being a grown up doesn’t mean you have to go it alone, quite the contrary. Being a grown up isn’t always easy, but I must say, I have not dented a pan in a really long time, heck, I haven't even slammed a door.
So I’ll ask you, when did you feel like a grown up?