When I was little I never understood why parents complained about being adults.
“You’ll see,” they’d say. “Being a child is a luxury. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
At the time it felt like my problems were being ignored. I couldn’t even choose what to eat or when to go to bed, and what’s worse, I was forced to go to a school every day where I had to deal with the cut-throat social politics of elementary school girls. This was no luxury, I thought. What were these people talking about?
Now that I’m older, of course, I see what they meant. There’s the obvious fact of having more responsibility, people depending on you for things, worrying about money, about living up to expectations, about health, about death. “Okay,” I thought, about a year into the whole adulthood thing. “This kinda sucks too.”
When I was in sixth grade I had a particularly hard time adjusting. My mother had just gotten remarried and I had moved into a big house with a combined family, many members of which were not too keen on sharing anything with me, oxygen included. Middle school was off to a rough start. I was still naively eager for a certain crowd of kids to want to be friends with me, which they didn’t. A gifted child but a terrible listener, I had a hard time following directions and would often fall behind in class. Not to mention my body was changing. I was wearing sports bras from Limited Too in a children’s size 16. I was standing silently outside a circle of kids while they laughed at jokes I didn’t get. I was copying other people’s math homework because I’d managed to place into the advanced classes without ever really learning my multiplication tables. And I was desperately hoping it would all be over soon.
One night my dad called while I was doing some homework after school.
“Dad!” I squealed. “You’ll never believe it! Today I wished that school would go by fast, and it did!”
“Mm,” he mumbled, the same way he had when I’d told him I thought I could see air when I was six years old. “Don’t wish your life away, kiddo.”
By this time, I had already heard about the problems my dad had with his eyes when he was a kid. I knew he’d had trouble reading, and that school was especially hard for him in the elementary and junior high years. He’d lived in Taiwan for a year when he was 12, and when he came back to the States he had to repeat the seventh grade. I knew he wouldn’t do middle school over again if you paid him. So why was he being so protective of my time?
I realize now that two things happen when you get a little older: time goes by faster, and less seems to change.
This is why two months have passed since I’ve last written. It’s why I didn’t notice it had been so long, and why I haven’t had much to say. It’s also why, at age 52, my father was telling me to relish the days where I had something he didn’t. My whole life laid out in front of me, years to decide who I was going to be, the freedom to make mistakes that wouldn’t have long term detriment or legal implications, and the absence of that underlying feeling all adults secretly have, that we’re squandering our potential, stressing ourselves to the limit, careening towards our end of days just hoping and praying we’ll have something to show for it. It’s true what they say, that youth is wasted on the young. What good is all the time in the world if you have no concept of time to begin with?
A lot has happened in these last two months. And they’ve been big, important steps for me, but just your run-of-the-mill adulty stuff. James and I got our own place in Greenpoint in a gutted out church, with the fixtures and the central air and the deep tub and the roof and the outdoor space we always wanted. The place is small but we’re happy, and the cats are happy, and we don’t mind giving some things away. Even with the reduced square footage, our rent went up quite a bit. So I needed to take my job hunt more seriously and really put my nuts to the wall to find work.
After putting myself out there and getting rejected so many times in a row that I couldn’t tell if I was job hunting or speed dating, I finally found a place that wanted me. I actually didn’t think I was right for the job, and I wasn’t terribly qualified either, but they seemed to think I was capable enough and hired me right away. Two months later, I think I have a handle on things. I have benefits and paid time off and a healthy sleep schedule. I go to the same salad bar every day during my lunch hour and listen to podcasts while I eat alone. I meet James on the platform at Union Square every day at 6:45, go home, make dinner, watch Netflix, maybe write a little, and go to bed. It is so delightfully, wonderfully, magically boring. And so far, I really love it.
I went to The Gap the other day and bought button-downs. Can you believe this? I’m an assistant at a design studio, so I don’t have to wear heels to work or get my hair blown out every day, but I can’t exactly go dressed like Malibu Barbie. Yeah it’s a bummer, but I also don’t mind being taken seriously. I just want to do good work, make my money, and get out of there. Part of growing up is knowing that you don’t have to show your entire personality, all your tastes and ambitions, every shade of who you are and want to be, to every person you encounter. At this point in my life, I think I’ll get farther if I hide a few things from the people who sign my checks. And the thing about selling out is, it makes your apartment so much nicer. Plus, idk, The Gap has some nice stuff.
The hard part of having the grown up day job is, well, there are a few. The first is getting out of bed every morning (I have no suggestions for this). The second is making sure you can manage not to turn into a sloppy, depressed mom who has given up on looking cute (this is a personal problem I’m trying to solve by keeping dry shampoo in my desk, eating fucking salads, and forcing myself to go to one social event a month). The third is staying focused on what you really want to do, remembering the difference between your actual two-year goal and what you wrote on your employee evaluation. But probably the hardest part is assuring yourself that how you make your money, and how much of it you have, isn’t what defines you. That the small achievements really do matter. And that we still have time, no matter what age, to make our dreams come true.
And in the meantime, well, you might find yourself at The Gap. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.