They were such grown-ups back then, high heeled in responsibility, absolute possessors of universal truths and magic kisses to make it all better. They were adults, synonymous with strong and confident, wise and fearless. Titles of ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ superseding any lingering childhood, they were the final answer, the protectors of safety, and owners of life’s guidebook. I watched her put on her make-up, superfluous to the beauty I saw even early in the morning, as I tasted a glimpse of this ‘other life’, cast in moonlight skies and whiffs of Escada perfume. They were old, with kids and houses, jobs and responsibilities. They had all of it figured it – they had to. I needed to believe that these two tall figures knew what they were doing, that they really could deliver the sun, that soothing words erasing fears were based in reality and not merely placating an anxious daughter. They were grown-ups – of course they had it all together.
Except as I look at the pictures from her 30th birthday party, it sinks in. I’m 30. Oh goodness. Panic seeps thru confidence cracks as I ponder the two options:
- She had no more clue about life and parenting and living in her skin than I do now and was just making it up as she goes along, which induces the crumbling of childhood pedestals and notions of ‘when I grow up’ I’ll somehow be granted the missing key.
- She was much more grown-up than I and really did have a life plan and know how to stand on her own two feet without peering around corners for approval and help. In that case, I am shockingly delayed. Without the kids, house, or spouse, I have somehow stepped off of the timeline.
Old has always been defined by the age of those I love. 40 might have sounded old but as soon as my cousin blew out all of those candles, it ceased to be old. Because we’re not old. We’re just the kids. We sit at the kid’s table and fly home for holidays. And my parents can’t be old. They’re no different than they were twenty years ago, so as the years pass, I simply slide the ‘old’ marker up a few years, protecting those I love from having to dip a toe into the danger zone. But I look around and I know – secretly I can see it in my 10 year old cousins eyes – he thinks I’m a grown up and I wish I could tell him the secret: I feel just like you, only with a few more stories to tell. And we are adults. We’re all in our twenties, thirties, forties, out living independent-ish lives, getting married, getting divorced, having kids, slipping on our own high heels.
I remember my grandmother looking in the mirror as I fastened her necklace caught off guard, as if she couldn’t match her 85-year-old face with the young girl she knew she really was. I’m guessing that’s how it goes. We all skip and stumble, take risks and laugh through the falls. We do the best we can in the absence of instruction manuals, and we try to fill the oversized shoes left behind. We banish monsters from the closet and kiss skinned knees, hoping that they won’t notice our own fears.
We are all kids playing as grown-ups, with sweet insecurities poking out as we build our Lego lives and pray that somehow it will end ‘Happily Ever After’.