By all accounts, I am a full-fledged adult. I was born 30-something years ago. I have childbearing hips, fine lines on my face, and gray strands in my hair (I like to call them “age highlights”). My kids gape at me when I tell them I was born before the internet and can remember when we had to stay tethered to the wall while talking on the phone. I pay taxes. I have a mortgage. I have a job and bills and clip coupons and make doctor’s appointments and gripe about politics and my feet hurting. Adulting all over the damn place. For all intents and purposes, I appear to be a real live grown-up.
The problem is, I’m still waiting to feel like one.
I always thought that once I reached some certain magical age, I would feel legit. I waited for it when I moved into my first apartment. I waited for it when I voted in my first election. I waited for it when I hit drinking age (even though, OK, I may have experienced a little backslide in maturity at that point). When I became a wife. When I became a mother. When I became a homeowner. Any day now, I thought, I’ll wake up and feel like I’ve certifiably got my shit together, like I’m finally worthy of being taken seriously.
Yet here I am, still feeling like I’m walking around in shoes that are too big. I look like a grown-up and am entrusted — no, heaped — with actual adult responsibilities every day with four children. But I look around at my fellow adults and get the impression that they’re “real” and I’m not. I may appear to be one of them, but really I’m just putting up a façade, and I’m waiting for someone to point at me with narrowed eyes and yell, “Impostor!”
There are times when I definitely feel my age, like when I talk to a college kid who was born the year I graduated from high school. But that makes me feel more washed up than grown up. And sometimes I catch a glimpse of that “real adult” feeling, after a particularly grueling day of meeting obligations, but it’s always fleeting. I start to think maybe I’m getting it down, but then I’m faced with a situation that I’m sure everybody else my age would know how to handle — yet I’m clueless, a novice, even though I’ve been a technical adult for years. And then any fragile idea that I might finally be a valid grown-up disintegrates.
Maybe it’s because I’m a 30-something woman who still runs at top speed up the basement stairs when I turn the light off. Maybe it’s because I laugh too hard at those Kermit the Frog memes and quote Napoleon Dynamite. Maybe it’s because I close my bathroom door and practice twerking (poorly) in the mirror or eat ice cream for breakfast after my kids go to school. I picture other grown-ups sipping coffee (which I could never develop a taste for, yet another strike against maturity) and peering over their bifocals, their heads filled with serious thoughts as they peruse the morning paper. They have a plan and a purpose and a portfolio, while I’m tackling situations as they come, guessing the best way to approach them and hoping for the best.
The years are going by, ever so quickly — heaven knows I’m not getting any younger — and I’m making it through life. But I’m doing it in a bumbly sort of way, not at all as the self-assured adult I always envisioned I’d be. I’m still waiting for someone to call my bluff, to say they see right through my charade and know I’m not actually as adult as I appear.
Maybe when I’m finished raising kids, when I’ve given up trying to cover the grays, when I hear a little voice calling me “Grandma,” maybe then I’ll get some validation, feel like I’ve earned my rightful place in the grown-up world. Or maybe those will be just like the other milestones I thought would lend me some credibility, moments that come and go and leave me endlessly wondering…if not now, when?