Thursday, April 10, 2014

When Does the Grown Up Get Here? - My Messy Beautiful

We celebrated my father's birthday a few years back, and at the end of our dinner he raised a glass and announced to his assembled family,

"Well, I can tell you one thing for sure. You never do feel seventy-five!"

I knew just what he meant. 

I try, as often as possible, to spend time with my childhood BFF. Whenever we're together it's like old times. We laugh like crazy, we rage like emotionally unbalanced teens, and we generally act like the kids we were back when we first met. Then at some point her 23-year-old son will saunter into the room and stun us with the hard truth that what we are, in 2014, is a pair of forty-something moms on an ill-advised weeknight bender.

We've all had this experience, right? Where the very realness of our current reality proves just so out of step with the way we perceive ourselves that our brains can't…quite...manage to...keep up.

I'll give you another example.

Several years ago my car broke down on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles. I don't remember the exact mechanical details, but suffice it to say that without warning my vehicle decided to stop being a vehicle and to become instead a giant car-shaped paperweight completely incapable of forward motion.

I panicked. 

Trucks and automobiles were whizzing by me on either side at alarming speeds. I prayed that perhaps some kind soul might lend a hand, but passing motorists merely slowed in order to offer a shouted critique of my driving abilities and/or to briefly proffer a raised middle finger and a facial expression designed to convey, 

"Thanks for ruining the freeway! You. Are. Terrible."

I did the only thing I could think of. I called my Mommy. 

From the 3rd lane of one of the busiest freeways in America I sat in my smoking vehicle, crying, and I called my mother -- a woman with absolutely zero automotive knowledge who was, at the time, over 3,500 miles away in the suburbs of New York City.

My mom picked up the phone, and after finally making sense of my situation through my frantic sobs responded abruptly,

"Well, darling! What in the hell are you calling me for?"

I didn't have what you'd call a "logical" response to what was, in truth, a pretty fair question. 

But as I look back, I understand that I was calling for a reason. I was calling because in spite of the fact that I was close to thirty years old at the time, I'd managed to get so overwhelmed that I'd opted to abandon any pretense of being an adult and instead just kind of commit to curling up in a very small ball, staying completely still, and hoping that a "real grown-up" would magically show up and make everything OK again.

It's a feeling I get sometimes.

I was thirty-seven the night I sat trying to soothe my firstborn child through his early hours home from the hospital. As I rocked and sang to him I just kept thinking,

"Wow, this seems a little advanced for me. I sure wish an adult would come and, you know, actually take care of this little guy."

Just a year earlier I'd sat holding my husband's hand in the warm office of a Texas funeral home making arrangements for his father's memorial service. As we began to work out the details I found myself summoning what willpower I could muster to keep from actually saying out loud,

"Um -- shouldn't we wait until a grown-up gets here before doing any of this?"

It's a panic reaction really. 

It's this feeling of being an impostor -- a frightened kid in a grown woman's body who is IN NO WAY CAPABLE of dealing with the things that real adults have to face.

But the truth is, of course -- those magical grown-ups? They're not coming. (I mean, to be fair, the Triple A guy who dragged me off the highway was an adult and he was pretty magical in that he didn't even goof on me for bawling and he let me finish his Big Gulp to help me calm down -- but that's not really what I'm talking about here.) 

I now have three children of my own. I am at a stage of my life in which bruises and bad days and good days and accidents and outings and diagnoses and dilemmas and sometimes even terrible awful deaths are going to keep arriving at my grown up doorstep -- mine to figure out and navigate.

And that -- I mean IT'S LIKE REALLY REALLY FREAKY you guys!!!

But there's no sense in panicking, right?

So instead I do what I can. I try to offer comfort. I attempt to soothe. I work at meeting the "big girl" challenges with whatever flawed and fraught and frantic solution I have at any given moment.

I work on accepting the fact that I'm not the caller anymore. I am the one who gets called.

And what else can I do but try to do it. Try to answer.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!