"Grown-up-ism"

I know it sounds kinda funny - it does to me, anyway - but sometimes I wonder when I'll finally be a "grown-up."

I'm 27. And a half. But I see other 26, 27, 28 and even 29-year-olds around me everyday, and they don't seem grown up to me, but more like relentless, overgrown teens playing dress up. Maybe it's the maturity level of the individuals themselves, their decisions and reactions and apparent morals (or lack of them). Maybe if I knew more people, I'd realize not all late-20's people are still dumb as rocks.

Maybe not. Those I've always considered "grown-ups" have been older than me by at least five years. Always. At 22, I thought I'd be one of the "grown" ones by now, but I still feel awkward and stumbly and sometimes teenage-ish, with a twist of real life experience to make me shut up and think before speaking and acting (definately not a normal teenage quality, so maybe that says something).

Maybe my idea of grown-up is needs an "l" at the end of it. I think of grown-ups as being in control even in the worst of situations, cool and calm and able to handle anything. And if something so awful comes up that they can't fix it, they roll with the punches with dignity, without freaking out. Grown-ups have always been, I guess, stereotypical heroes to me, and I wonder when and if I'll ever become one, or if what I'm thinking now and realizing as each year passes is that this is what being "grown-up" is. Worrying. Wondering. Planning. Hoping. Worrying some more. Freaking out, and not where no one will notice.

And rolling with the punches not because it's suave and dignified and a symbol of strength, but because there is nothing else to do. Because life rolls, and tumbles, and falls apart and rebuilds into harrowing dark ruins of unfamiliar and unpredictable twists and turns and pitfalls and closing doors.

Maybe, at 27 and a helluva lot wiser - if not exactly smarter - than I was at 22, I am a grown-up. Maybe the ideal I held hand in hand with the title is just a dream, or maybe not and I can still attain it, or some semblance of it.

I tell myself that once I graduate, once I get my bachelor's and then my master's degree, I'll feel like a grown-up. That my golden ticket to that elite hall of cool-headed gods is a piece of paper that will grant me financial stability.

I tell myself money will make me feel better.

Honestly- it will help tremendously with decreasing my stress level, as money (or rather, the lack of enough of it) has been the bane of my existence for the past few years. Not having to worry so much about making it through another month will certainly grant me a level of cool-headed calm.

But it won't make me an adult. It won't grant me maturity and the wisdom to make the right decisions, be they easy or difficult.

In those fields, somedays I feel wizened, ancient. Other days I'm just another bumbling 14-year-old, bewildered at why I can't have my way because it seems so simple, really ... and angry that I have to act my age.

I doubt that money will change that, so I try to ignore that fact that had I stuck with the two-class-per-term schedule, and never taken any breaks, I'd have received my bachelor's degree at the beginning of November, and would be working on my master's degree right now. I try to ignore the sting of putting off my wedding to an now-unknown year because I don't know anymore when I will finally be done with school, bachelor's and master's degrees in hand. I try to think of something other than the fact that the bachelor's degree will no longer be my birthday present to myself this year.

I focus on bills which make me cringe and sometimes cry when no one's looking. I focus on dishes that pile up again before two full loads are clean. I focus on picking cat hair off of clothes and sheets, because it works as much as a distraction as a helpful bit of cleaning. I worry about possible leaks in the bathroom and on how high our heating bill will be in light of the very badly insulated living room, which was an add-on to the house's original structure. I focus on trying to form cohesive, meaningful sentences to string together into posts here - again as much of a distraction as an interaction - and then grumble when nothing comes together well enough to be released, and seen.

And I think sometimes that I really hope this isn't what being grown-up is like. I hope that I'm in a sort-of half stage of trying very hard - and making progress - but still missing some all-important something that will make all the difference when I finally figure it out.

In fourth grade, I met my favorite teacher, the one who most influenced my life in school - the one who stood out from the rest and earned a place forever in my heart. Her name was Miss Jackson, and she insisted we call her Miss J. She told stories of her youth and her dreams and her projects at home and her vacations. She sang songs to us and with us, made games out of math (we loved "Fourth Grade Feud") and took us on field trips too numerous to count, to places that really mattered and made us sit up and take notice.

She made us laugh, and at the end of the year on the last day of school, when she cried because we'd be moving on without her, we cried, too.

Miss J turned 27 that year.

She was mortified.

As she bemoaned becoming "so old" and still not even being married or with any kids of her own, we sat there puzzled and bemused.

Old? At 27? Was she crazy?

27 wasn't old. 90 was old. 100 was old. 27 was grown-up, but still very young. We knew she still had many long happy years ahead of her, and couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. She wasn't old.

We told her as much, and she laughed and thanked us but I don't think she believed us.

Now, 20 years later, I think I understand her.

She wasn't feeling age itself, I think, but rather the passage of time in relation to milestone achievements in life - love, marriage, her own home, raising a family. She didn't even have a boyfriend (something we never could understand, because she was one helluva catch, we knew, and any man lucky enough to turn her head would have been blessed the rest of his life). She knew, I think, that it wasn't age but the lack of seeming age-related accomplishments and titles and behaviors that began to weigh on her that year.

My best friend is working on her master's thesis.

The girl who used to be my other best friend, the third of our trio, has been married, has a child, and will be married again soon. Another close friend from my first run through college is married, with a kid.

Hell. My boss - who is a few years younger than me - is already married and owns his own house. He was married and a homeowner before I even met Matt.

Another close friend - like a big brother to me - despite having not graduated high school or college, has enough job experience and social connections that he will never want for a job (or three) or a place to live any where he goes.

Even my ex-con younger half-sister moved out of the house, got a job, and got her license years before I did. Never mind the fact that she's been in and out of prison ever since.

I guess I feel like I should be a grown-up by now, by the standards I held in my ideals of "grown-up-ism" all my life. I should have had my bachelor's degree years ago, and should be almost done with or even have my master's degree now. I should at least be renting a full, reasonably-sized house, if not owning one by now. I should have a job that means something to me, that is actually turning into a career, rather than loathing and fearing for the one I have. I should have the option to go out and get married next weekend if the fancy strikes me, rather than being forced to wait indefinately until I'm done with school because being married will kill my chances of any financial aid, which I need. Not that I'm looking to have kids anytime soon (if ever), but I should have the financial stability to be able to take on that responsibility if I chose to, or if (god forbid and knock on wood and all that) the pills I've been on for years fail me and we get a "joyous surprise."

I should have the stability and control that I always thought would come with being a grown-up, if I am a grown-up, right? I shouldn't have to wonder and worry and dread checking the mail and cringe over buying shampoo and conditioner. I shouldn't have to let the "check engine" light stay on in the Jeep indefinately after it's having been on for easily four months now, because we can't afford to even have the problem thoroughly diagnosed, much less fixed.

I should be able to show the world the same bright, cheerful and ever happy face that Miss J did, rather than hiding fear and stress with a small, shy smile while I look to the side, not daring to meet another's eyes for fear of giving my darkness away.

If I am grown-up, I should feel like it, right? Or is this really what it feels like no matter how old or experienced one gets?

Maybe the calm cool-headedness I always saw in others was just a well-honed mask like my eyeless smile. Maybe being grown-up is all about smiling through the dark, beause at least you have that much left that's yours, that you can control. Maybe rolling with the punches serves as much as a distraction as a reasonable reaction.

I begin 2009 unsure of where I stand and where I'll stand six months from now, but certain strangely and inexplicably that it will be more stable than where I've been the last few years. I don't know if I'm a grown-up yet, or if I ever will be, but I'll try to meet the eyes I smile at, calm in the tumult and graceful in the rolling. I'll try not to think about time and timelines and milestones. I'll try to think as much about today as tomorrow. I'll try to learn from my inner bumbling 14-year-old as much as from my inner 6-year-old and that haunting, ancient soul I sometimes feel peeking through, wise and tired and peaceful.

I'll try to enact the everyday life lessons that Miss J taught me 20 years ago, when she was my age and a symbol of a happy and successful journey through life.

I'll try, and maybe I'll figure it out.

Good fortune to you all in this new year. And good learning to me.

3 comments:

akhilesh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wren said...

While it may dismay you, you are a grown-up, and you've just proven it with this post. At nearly twice your age, I've written similar posts, though they weren't nearly as coherent and thoughtful as yours. I believe now that we remain children for our entire lives, regardless of what face we show the world. And I've come to believe that's a blessing and a gift, really, because children are able to appreciate the world anew every day and approach it with a sense of awe, joy and wonder.

Thank goodness mostof us never really grow up. And pity those who do -- the world must be a terribly boring, dark, dismal place.

dorki said...

Being about 2.6 times your age, I can say that being "grownup" is very much overrated. There will always be punches to roll with and bullets to dodge. Being able to manage most of life's calamities is a major part of maturity.

But life is more than ducking and weaving. Save some energy to be good to yourself, enjoy the beauty and wonder of the world, and share it those close you.

Peter Pan had a pretty good idea in never "growing up".