It happened one evening as I walked into my bathroom.
There it was.
In the corner of the shower, up towards the top where the tile and the frosted window hit.
A giant spider.
The symbol of my adulthood coming into full swing. All eight legs and eight eyes. Just waiting for me to scream for my mom to come kill it.
But I couldn’t scream for my mom. I couldn’t scream at all.
I’m the grown up here. I had a child in the other room and I was supposed to be teaching him that spiders aren’t scary and that his mom is brave and that I am, well, a grown up. This mama is supposed to be able to handle this, arachnophobe or not.
What my child in the other room (and the giant spider) didn’t realize is that I didn’t feel like a grown up. Inside I was still a kid, at the very oldest, a young adult. Didn’t I just graduate from college? (No.) What happened to my 20’s? What my kids and all the scary spiders in the world don’t realize is that to this day I still don’t always feel like the grown up.
When I was younger I dreamed of being older.
I imagined a wedding and babies like in the movies. I imagined a husband and a house and our kids that filled it. In that dream, I knew how to cook and I rocked my babies to sleep. (And they actually slept, because that’s what happened when I babysat). In that dream, I took my kids to school and I stayed home each day as my mother did. And in that dream, I did all the grown up stuff.
I had that dream because I watched my parents gracefully manage a household full of kids and imagined myself just like them when I grew up. Bubble baths and bedtime stories, bedtime prayers and kisses goodnight, rocking us when nightmares swept into the safety of our slumber. Family vacations and calmly extinguishing sibling squabbles, wrestling on the living room floor. Dinner served by five, gathering around as we waited for dad to walk in the front door, briefcase in hand, untying his tie as he joined his wife and children for a family meal each night. We drank our milk and ate all our food and helped with the dishes.
My parents must have known what they were doing. Right?
When I became a babysitter in high school I imagined the houses I babysat in were my own and, again, I was the grown up. I imagined my future life being filled with parties with my husband, fancy clothes and all, of course with a babysitter that we’d drive home at the end of the night.
All those grown ups must have known what they were doing, too.
And that’s, most likely, why I don’t feel like an adult yet. By the time I realized I was expected to know how to do this, I was already too far in to stop my pretending. All along I’ve been waiting to arrive at the place little kid me imagined as the grown up life. So far I’m still moving along, inch-by-inch, lesson-by-lesson. I haven’t arrived anywhere yet.
It’s all happened so quickly, and sneakily. Suddenly I’m the one making doctor’s appointments and remembering to take the kids to the dentist and helping calm tantrums and planning meals for picky eaters and nurturing and loving and homework helping. Didn’t my parents just do that for me…like, yesterday?
But each day I do it.
Each day my husband and I keep playing grown up. Sometimes it feels like a haphazard, fly by the seat of your pants way. Then there are days we feel like experts. But those feelings are about as consistent as our kids’ behavior and their sleep schedule and their health. Always changing, always growing, always trying new ways, holding on to what works, extending grace where it didn’t.
Sometimes, when I’m not quite sure how to be the grown up, I long to be back in the safety of being a kid again. Snuggled up in bed, bedtime stories with my mom and my brother and sisters annoying me by my side. Someone taking care of me. Sometimes it’s right there in the safety of that longing that I get the courage to be a grown up, to try to extend the same love and security that was once given to me, to my own children.
That love and safety can permeate from one generation to the next and extinguish fear in a heartbeat. Maybe that’s the start of feeling like a grown up, as I give the good parts of what was given to me to the next generation.
And maybe, just maybe, my kids will think we know what we’re doing, just as we thought our parents did. Because if there’s one thing I’m learning as a parent, it’s that none of us really know what we are doing. There isn’t really a point of arrival in all of this. It’s a process and we’re learning.
For now, I think I’ll just teach my kids to not be afraid of spiders so they can get rid of them for me.