Wake me when it’s time to be a grownup

Midlife Sentence | Wake Me When It's Time To Be A Grownup

I think it would really be nice to have some notice when a panic attack is due.

Like something on my calendar, so I’d know, for example, that at precisely 4am Mountain Time this coming Tuesday I would wake up wondering how much longer we were going to put off replacing the broken microwave, followed by my letting brain wander down various other rabbit holes that have to do with what is otherwise broken or incomplete in my life.

I might try to get to bed a little earlier if I knew I had that 4am thing looming. Maybe decide to actually get up then, instead of laying there, staring into space. I could do some laundry or something. You know, multitask.

A friend of mine wondered on social media recently whether she was of an age to start feeling like a “grown up,” and whether the fact she doesn’t most of the time has something to do with not having kids.

“Does having children make you feel more adult?” She asked.

I’m guessing my friend also had one of these unscheduled appointments, recently.

Anyway, I answered with as resounding a “nope” as one can muster without emoji, and moved on. Sometimes I’m just pithy like that. You’re welcome, Sally.

But then I thought about that question all day. As far as I can tell, parenting doesn’t make me feel any more grown up. On the contrary, as a mother of teenagers, I tend to get the regular message (subtly and not so subtly) that I’m more of a nincompoop than a bonafide adult.

So, would my friend Sally feel more like a grownup if she’d had children? I’m not sure how, exactly. Even if your children are too young to roll their eyes at your wisdom and experience, I’m not sure how having people following you around in the grocery store asking for five dollar boxes of cereal is supposed to make you feel more like an adult.

All I know is that I’ve spent more time than I thought I would over the last twenty years in a state of shock that I’m expected to behave responsibly, not wearing clothes that come off of a pile on the floor, or drinking milk straight from the carton.

There are a few other reasons why my friend’s question stuck with me today:

I just spent the morning looking for a receipt and now have a pile of crap on my living room floor and I wonder how anyone can call herself a grownup if she can’t be organized enough by the age of 48 to keep track of money she’s owed. This is not what not being a grownup looks like you guys. When will I get my act together?

Midlife Sentence | Wake Me When It's Time to be a GrownupMy oldest child recently turned 18, and would have graduated from high school this week, if he hadn’t gone on exchange this year.

Midlife Sentence | Wake Me When It's Time to be a GrownupWe’re coming up on a milestone date. When my dad died, almost ten years ago, someone said “I don’t think you’re ever really a grownup until you have to deal with the loss of a parent.” I don’t know if I agree, but there is something distinctly jarring about losing someone you once followed around the grocery store begging for a box of Cookie Crisp.

Okay, that last point is kind of a bummer, so let’s get back to my kid turning the age of majority, shall we?

Here’s the thing: we all have these benchmark ages by which time we tell ourselves, consciously or not, that we’re supposed to have earned something, or paid our dues, or received recognition. I guess the fact those benchmarks exist at all give us the impression that we’ll feel different when we reach them, for better or for worse.

How much weight we give those benchmarks is a matter of choice. Whether if, when faced with one, we’re able to pivot in our view of the world and our place in it (if necessary), or stuck wallowing in the what ifs at 4 am.

Take my kid for example, the one not graduating with his friends this week. Mike and I went to the graduation ceremony anyway to celebrate with those friends, and a few others we knew who were going to be tossing mortarboards into the air.

Afterward, I posted a photo with a snappy “all your friends say ‘hey!’” caption and tagged Jack.

Later I wondered if he’d seen the photo, halfway around the world, celebrating his milestone birthday on a European bus tour with other exchange students. I wondered if I’d inspired a mini-existential crisis in my kid. Maybe his own 4 am appointment.

He’d postponed graduation, after all. A benchmark. Mortarboards. Long speeches. Cheesy photos.

So I messaged him the next morning. Did I bum him out with my picture? Was he okay? Homesick? Overcome by FOMO? A mom wonders about these things when she doesn’t get her regular dose of eye rolling for so long.

As it happens, he wasn’t bummed or homesick or freaked out. He just hadn’t seen the photo. Too busy. As far as how he was feeling, he said, “we all have our paths to take and theirs are different.” No big deal.

… A way more Robert Frost sentiment than I’d expected.

Besides which, he didn’t have time for mulling over what he might be missing. Mortarboards or no:

Midlife Sentence | Wake Me When It's Time to be a Grownup
Photo by Emma Lillian Neitzke


“I’m in the middle of Paris,” he said. “Duh.”

Good point, Jack. Or, to use some of my extremely limited French vocabulary: Touché.

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1 comment

  1. Oh, that made my cry a little. A bit melancholy, but mostly with happiness. Less about that fact that we lie awake at night with anxiety and more about that fact that our offspring are moving on without us.