Will the Real Adult Please Stand Up?
I fumble around in the darkness, trying to locate the light switch in the pitch black of the master bathroom. I can’t risk the light waking the baby, who is finally, blessedly asleep in the bassinet next to our bed, so I stand in total blackness until the door is closed and it’s safe to flip the switch. The room floods with harsh fluorescent light. Through unfocused eyes, I catch a glimpse of myself in the vanity mirror—hair wild, complexion dull, wearing my husband’s oversized, decade-old beer league kickball shirt, holey and frayed along the hem.
There is something strangely familiar there in the reflection; a mental image of my mom surfaces, wearing my father’s oversized tee shirts to bed every night as far back as I can remember. In that moment—adorned in same ridiculous sleepwear as my mother, the consummate picture of adulthood—I realize that, without even really noticing, I have somehow slipped into adulthood myself.
I am convinced that can’t be true, though the signs are certainly all there. Within the relatively short span of 18 months I’ve given birth twice over. I’ve bestowed names upon those children, fed them from my body, changed several thousand diapers, caught puke in my hands. I taught myself how to make a chicken potpie from scratch and learned the hard way how to change a flat tire. There’s a little boy down the hall who calls me “mama.”
Yet there is always a reason to feel like an imposter. I return library books late. We sometimes eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner. I do my taxes at the last possible minute every year and only pretend to know what most of the financial terms mean.
I’ve spent years believing I still have time to become the kind of adult I thought my mother was during my childhood. Until now, I had never once stopped to consider that maybe she started out feeling exactly like I do at this moment.
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She was 28 when she gave birth to her first baby, the same age I am now. Though I just assumed she fell into adulthood easily, it stands to reason that my mother didn’t have everything figured out the morning she started her first real job, the day she walked down the aisle, the minute the nurse placed me in her arms.
Maybe she forgot doctors’ appointments and didn’t know how to sew Halloween costumes.
Maybe her mother had to help her make the turkey the first year she hosted Thanksgiving.
Maybe, amidst her fears and frustrations, she sometimes felt more like a little kid playing house than a real adult.
Maybe she just pretended to know what she was doing until she actually did.
I often find myself sending up a silent prayer of thanks that my kids will have no recollection of the ways in which I’ve screwed up so far. There’s got to be a reason why it happens like that: why children don’t remember much of their early years when the majority of their parents’ trial and error occurs. That must be true or none of us would ever take our parents seriously.
Maybe adulthood is more of a gradual thing than an all-at-once thing.
Maybe you never completely figure it all out—you just get better at pretending.
Maybe, in the beginning, our parents were just scared kids like us who were totally winging it and hoping like hell that no one noticed.
The past couple of years I’ve been fumbling in the dark, trying to find the elusive adult gene that I assumed must have skipped a generation and left me to fend for myself. When the answers weren’t readily apparent, I held my breath through the hard parts, waiting for the real adult to show up and tell me what to do.
But maybe all that time she was already here, looking back at me from the mirror; the girl in the too-big tee shirt with the wild hair and tired eyes who feels like she’s just going through the motions until someone else takes over. The real adult who, like so many mothers before her, already has the answers. She just doesn’t know it yet.
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Bio: Melissa is a stay at home mom to two little boys. Her hobbies include: eating peanut butter from the jar, finding acceptable styles for unwashed hair and coming up with a patent for disposable laundry. She blogs about her life as a (sometimes clueless, but always honest) new mom over at One Mother to Another. Her book “One Mother to Another: This is Just Between Us” will be available in late 2016.
You can also join her community of supportive, down-to-earth moms who don’t have the energy to take themselves too seriously on Facebook.
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