The Myth Of Being A Grown-Up

by Cara Stevens
Originally Published: 

When you’re 3 years old, you want to be 5, in kindergarten, queen of the playground.

At 5, you want to be 10, with homework, a 9:00 bedtime and sleepover parties.

At 10, you keep cursing your limitations, looking to your teens.

In your teens, it’s a driver’s license, college and a way out of the house that urges you on.

In college, you look ahead to being the breadwinner and decision-maker.

After college, it’s marriage. Then kids. Then house, dog, yard and…

Adulthood. The holy grail of life. When life as we know it would start. When we’d finally be the master of our domain. When we’d know everything, be able to do whatever we wanted and take on the world with our knowledge and power.

Some of you reading this right now may have hit that goal. You may look in the mirror, hands on your hips, chin up, saying, “Yep, I did it. I’m the perfect adult.” Maybe you are that confident woman/mother/wife/professional with all the answers, wearing outfits complete with matching handbags and shoes, making plans and showing up on time.

If that’s you, please stop reading and go away. Seriously, just go away.

As for me, as soon as I hit adulthood—that magic age when my adult, structured life was supposed to begin—I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. I began aching to be 3 again, wearing pigtails and pajamas in public. Or to be 5 and zoom around on a Big Wheel. Maybe being 10 was the golden age to look back on, before worrying about boys or breasts or taxes. Life as a teenager suddenly seemed better than it was, when I had enviable curves but didn’t know it. I realized I’d love to go back to college, where my time was my own and my life was devoted to the quest for knowledge. Or the single life, when I could eat cold pizza for breakfast and breakfast for dinner without apology.

I’d been working with the assumption all through childhood that when I became a grown-up, I’d have all the answers. I’d have the confidence to make decisions. I’d always know what to do. I’m so not that person.

At 46, I’m not even as tall as either of my parents, not to mention anywhere near as confident as my mom or as knowledgeable as my dad. Although I’m technically a grown-up, I still have way more questions than answers; I still think twice, three times or more before making most decisions. I still look over my shoulder to see how others are handling things before acting. I still call my mother to tell me how to dress for any occasion. My husband and I stress about where to take the kids for spring break until it’s too late to go anywhere.

Try as we might, we can’t fight nature. We’re the kind of parents who decide on the first day of vacation to pile everyone into the car, follow the sun and drive 1,200 miles to Florida. In a day. More than once. We might as well have done it on a Big Wheel. It was seriously that epic every time.

It makes me think: Would we even enjoy those picture-perfect family vacations where everyone wears matching outfits and has a printed itinerary with every day planned in advance? I’m thinking after a cost-benefit analysis of the work it takes to get there, we’d probably be disappointed.

In those moments when inspiration and imagination coalesce in the ultimate serendipity, we are actually building our kids’ ideas of what adulthood has in store for them. It’s a picture that bears little resemblance of the image I’d held in my mind all those years. Instead, we’re handing our children a new definition of life filled with spontaneity, fun and love of adventure that has nothing to do with how old they are and everything to do with how they feel. Adulthood be damned.

So if you’re staring at your reflection and a superwoman with a cape and a briefcase isn’t staring back at you, don’t despair. You may just need to redefine your own vision of who you want to be as an adult.

As for me, after all the wishing and waiting to be a grown-up, I can admit my assumptions were just plain wrong. Instead, I get to be the adult I want to be now: I can dye my hair blue, wear ripped jeans, feed my family breakfast for dinner and still be the woman who loves myself, loves my husband and children to infinity and beyond, and ends up in a family cuddle puddle on the couch every evening. I can even ride a Big Wheel if I want. In pigtails. Adulthood aside, at any age, that’s all the life I need.

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