“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” —Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
With Thanksgiving less than a week away I think I can officially say that the holidays are upon us. And the thing I love best about this time of year is the time-stands-still quality of everything. It’s like being a kid again. We eat the foods we’ve always eaten, we open presents the way we’ve always opened them, we have the same arguments and make the same jokes. And, in this dance we do each year, I get to play my favorite role: the part of the kid. My parents play the part of the adults. And my son … well, he plays the part of an even younger kid.
Truth be told, I’ve never really felt like an adult. That doesn’t mean I’ve never acted like one. I act like one every day. Sometimes twice a day. But it still feels just a little bit like play-acting. And I still call my mom whenever I feel sad. Or need advice. Or have a question about how the oven works. Or can’t find my left shoe. (She doesn’t know where it is. She lives 3,000 miles away. Stop calling.)
But all joking aside, I’m “adulting” with the best of them. And, I mean, to my son I’m the very definition of “adult.” Which is a rather sobering thought, really. And one that I mostly think when I’ve done something I feel totally guilty about and wish he hadn’t seen. (Like burst into tears because the milk carton somehow flung itself out of the refrigerator and sloshed milk all over the floor. The very definition of what you’re not supposed to cry about. Good grief!)
But if I was to stand outside of myself for a moment (a very risky procedure which I wouldn’t recommend, but, you know, if) I think I’d say that my son’s mother is most definitely an adult. In fact, I don’t know that I’d see anything that would cause me to say otherwise.
Our home is neat and tidy. We eat three meals and two snacks a day. We follow a routine for our day and go on fun outings and run necessary errands. We regularly travel by subway and bus and I know how to get where we’re going. I’m there for a hug when, for example, my son gets his head stuck in a kitchen cabinet. And I have the answers to questions like “what is that?” and “what are we doing next?” I’m a grown up. I must be.
But what about the fact that I hate cleaning up? I drag my feet to the closet to pull out the vacuum and roll my eyes at the duster. And what about the fact that the only thing I’m actually good at cooking is cookies? My hand always opens the vegetable drawer, then closes it because it’s too much work to cut up red pepper, then opens it again because I know my son needs to eat some vegetables. And what about the fact that the real reason we do fun outings and run errands is because I can’t stand sitting around the house anymore? And what about the fact that it was kind of funny when his head was stuck in the cabinet? And the fact that I actually have no clue what “that” is and just said something random because he wouldn’t stop asking? What about that, outside-of-myself me?
But I guess that’s pretty much what Neil Gaiman was talking about in that quote I put at the beginning but didn’t reference until now (sneaky, huh?). The me on the outside is an adult. But the me on the inside, well, not so much. Which is okay. Even though it doesn’t feel like it is all the time.
But I want to make sure my son understands this. I want somehow to pull away the veil for him, not in a frightening no-one’s-in-charge-here kind of way. But in a reassuring you-don’t-have-to-have-all-the-answers kind of way. I want him to know that, even though he may never really feel like a grown-up, one day he will be.
I’m not totally sure I know how to show him this. But I think I’ve got a little while before he’s going to start worrying about it. So, for now, I’m just going to let the kid in me out every once in a while, so he sees she’s in there.
So when, a few years from now, he’s pretending not to know me because I’m waving like crazy at Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, I’ll have accomplished another feat of adulthood: totally embarrassing your children.