Things you do when you are an adult

I am turning 39 this summer.  I have a 10 year old and an 8 year old.  I drive an SUV, own a house, have been married almost 13 years, and have a graduate degree.  It’s pretty hard to deny that I’m an adult.  I’m constantly surprised, however, by what it takes to make me feel like a grown up.

Some of the realization comes in the Big Moments.

This past summer I sat at the funeral of my last grandparent, and felt the ferris wheel hitch forward and the car I’m sitting in lurch closer to the top.  I have watched friends lose both parents and pregnancies.  I’ve seen the way illness and misfortune –  mostly in the shape of cancer, in my life – can strike suddenly, shockingly, and leave everyone who witnesses it reeling.

But, truthfully, a lot of the a-has happen in the Small Moments.

It is the night I went out to dinner with a friend and learned that her husband had forgotten the stickers with which her son was supposed to make Valentine’s for his class in Vermont.  It was February 13th.  We drove by my house on the way home and I ran upstairs to gather up all of our leftover stickers, and brought them down to her.

It is the ease with which I cook for my children now, and way I feel my own mother’s hands guiding my own as I move casually around the kitchen.

It is the quiet hum inside the car when Matt, Grace, Whit and I are driving, after dinner, to New Hampshire to ski with friends and I realize that everything I care about most in the world – everything I truly need – is in this darkened car.

It is reading the alumni magazines of my high school, college, and business school classes, and noticing what my peers are doing: CEOs and Congressmen and heads of departments at hospitals.  It is taking my daughter, with a broken collarbone, to see an orthopedist who is the younger brother of a friend from high school.

It is driving through Harvard Square on move-in day and wondering aloud to my husband that the college freshman are closer to our childrens’ age.  It is his baffled response: “That has been true for a while now, Linds.”

I suspect I’m not alone in this disbelief about my age.  Is it too scary, to accurately locate myself on life’s ferris wheel?  I write about that wheel all the time, about nearing the top, about how gorgeous the view is from here, about how I can see ahead and how quickly we’ll descend.  And I do believe that, and feel it – fervently, truthfully, often.  But at the same time I struggle to accept that I am actually almost 40.  I still think of my parents as 40; it was only five minutes ago that I ran around the back yard in a sundress while my handsome father, smiling under his brown mustache, gazed at his birthday windsurfer leaning against the wall of our house.  How can that be almost thirty years ago?

What is this about?  Is it stubborn denial?  Do we all still think of ourselves as 18?  The aches in my back, weakness in my knee, and wrinkles on my face all speak to my actual age.  As do the, you know, children.  And yet.  And still.  In my head I’m always eighteen, dancing in the late-day sun amid a swirl of magnolias with the women who knew me then and still know me best.

Do you feel like a grown-up?  Why or why not?



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  1. Posted April 29, 2013 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    I turned 40 a week ago and it is stunning to me. I don’t feel it at all. And to be honest, when you write about college freshman being closer in age to our children, that made my stomach drop. Of course they are but I had not really thought about it that way… How can it all be?

    admin Reply:

    I have no idea. It was five minutes ago that you and I were junior counselors together on Cape Cod, that’s all I know!

  2. Tanya
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    I am crowding in on 48. I have young children. My oldest is the same age as your youngest. A long heartbreaking journey to motherhood. I find i constantly add in my head how old I will be when my children graduate from high school and I panic. I pray that I will still be around. In my 20’s I was friendly with a woman in her 70’s. She would tell me that she stil felt like she was in her 20’s.. So much of what you write resonates with me. Thank you for sharing your gifts.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so, so much for this generous comment. I really appreciate knowing that you are reading and that my words mean something to you. xoxo

  3. Posted April 29, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    The NYT ran a fascinating article a few months ago about memory. They are discovering that a disproportionate number of our stored memories are between the ages of, I think, 12 and 20 — young adulthood, nonetheless. It’s hard to feel like an adult when we can so easily recall being 14, no?

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I need to find that! I am in the middle of another post on memory right now … Fascinating..

  4. Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I’m twenty years ahead of you on that ferris wheel, and I can tell you I’m reeling from the realization that child-rearing is done in a blink of an eye. Just when I thought I was getting pretty good at it too… now I’m just trying to concentrate on leaving things in a little better shape than when I arrived in this life. I think that is what adults are supposed to do but given the kid that is still in my heart, I’m never too certain.

    admin Reply:

    I’m never certain of anything. Thank you for this. That someone I respect so much feels the same way is indescribably comforting! xoxo

  5. Kathryn
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I said to my sister-in-law just yesterday: sometimes I look at my children and cannot believe that I am “allowed” to have them.

    admin Reply:

    I know. I say all the time that I’m still waiting for the real parents to come home, and that’s how I feel on a daily basis.

  6. Hilary Mead
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I never feel like a grown up. Sometimes I think that’s because I’ve never had certain seminal adult experiences (e.g. buying a house). Other times I think it’s because I’m married to someone 9 years older (he’s the grown up in the marriage).

    admin Reply:

    Perhaps it’s just because your older sister is such a masterful adult. HA. I jest.

  7. Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I will turn 40 this summer. I look at my 16 year old daughter sometimes and cannot believe that I am her MOTHER. I feel like there are days when my teenage angst exceeds that of my actual teenagers. I just said to my husband yesterday that in eight short years we will be empty nesters. I still cannot believe that.

    admin Reply:

    I know just what you mean. Sometimes I stare at them and just wonder: where did you come from?

  8. Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    52 is around the corner for me, and I feel younger than I ever have.

    I believe, dear Lindsey, that we are the age of our spirits, forever and always, and that we just find our way back to that.

    And from the far less inspirational part of me – cannot for the life of me figure out how I have a twenty year old daughter in college! Still miss my baby…

    The only thing I know to do is enjoy every moment of it, find the beauty and radiate love. That – you’ve got down, my friend.

    Thank you.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I’m glad you think I’ve got that down – in fact hearing that is a hugely reassuring thing. Thank you! Most of the time I don’t think so … xoxo

  9. Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, thank you so much for sharing this.

    I’m 41. I gave birth to my beautiful daughter at 40 after a long journey towards motherhood. Like you, Tanya, sometimes it fills me with panic to think of the future. Will I be here for her for as long as I’d like to be, as long as she’ll need me to be around?

    At the same time, becoming 40 has been the most incredible thing. My life really has begun anew.

    I also notice how people seem to respond differently to me now that I’m a mother (including my own mother). Why would this be, I wonder? What about all the years that I so desperately wanted to be a mother and people assumed that I did not? I was learning different things then.

    I catch myself thinking, ‘There just isn’t enough time to learn everything that I want to learn, do everything that I want to do.’ Simultaneously, my life has slowed to the rhythm of living with a fourteen-month-old, going everywhere and nowhere, savouring the small things, feeling frustrated that the ‘big’ things don’t get done… Is this being an adult? I don’t know. I know more than I ever did and nothing at all.

    admin Reply:

    I love “I know more than I ever did and nothing at all.” Me too. Oh, me too. xox

  10. Deborah
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    My mother is 93. Up until a couple of years ago she always said she felt 18. Now that she’s 93 she says she finally feels like she’s in her early 20’s!

    I also feel about 18. But I’ve noticed as I get older — I’m 58 — that the disconnect between my chronological age and my felt age becomes more pronounced, and somehow more silly. And since that disconnect is so *consistent* over the decades, I’ve come to understand it as a deep teaching: your “actual age” is the age of your spirit. Your chronological age is the age of your packaging. They almost have nothing to do with each other, except in the way they talk to each other.

    admin Reply:

    I love this way of thinking about it. And maybe we just have to accept that there will likely be a gulf between the soul and the packaging, and that’s just the way it is …? xox

  11. Deborah
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Yes, and even more than that, more than a certain resignation about it all: there really is no “you” that is consistent over time. What is that fact of biology, that all of our cells are replaced every seven years? Physically, “you” are not the same “you” that you were seven years ago. She no longer exists. And yet, you’re still here. That’s what I mean: as you get older it becomes more obvious that the only thing that’s consistent is your soul — and there’s tremendous joy and head-shaking laughter in that fact. And you can depend on that truth as you age, even as it plays with your sense of what adulthood means. The part of you that still feels like a kid is the same part that will be with you when you’re 90. The 39 year old will have much less heft in your memory, if any at all.

    admin Reply:

    I adore the image of tremendous joy and head-shaking laughter. Just reading this makes me happy. Thank you! ox

  12. Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I love the Ferris wheel analogy. But I have to warn you, that after 40, that wheel goes faster on the way down:(.

    My youngest is on his last year of preschool. After seven years of roaming the preschool halls, with different children and various stages of pregnancy, I’m so sad for these last three weeks. I can’t believe my preschool mom days are over. Yet as I look at the new, younger moms, I know they are and I get so chocked up and I feel very much like a grown up.

    But now my oldest is in middle school and I cannot believe, as I roam those halls, that I’m the parent. Hearing him talk about things, I remember being a middleschooler and I can’t believe it’s been thirty years. This morning I waved to him (I was there for a teacher conference) in the hall and he pretended he didn’t see me! I had my youngest on my hip, so I was feeling like the cool young mom, but then he dissed me, bringing me back to grown up reality. Round and Round I go.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I so relate to this … I remember looking around and realizing that my “generation” had moved on and that a new group of younger moms had moved in to take our place … I feel an absolute ache these days when I see young moms at the playground with strollers, remembering those days with nothing to do but hang out … alas. Round and round indeed. xoxo

  13. Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Lindsey. This post brought tears to my eyes :) I’m 34, so a few cars behind on the ferris wheel. I think I’m actually just starting to feel that, “wow, I can’t even say I’m even CLOSE to being in my 20’s anymore,” and it’s such a shocking thought. Funnily enough, I actually haven’t felt all that connected to my high school or college self in a while, but I DO still think of my self as, say, 27. xox

    admin Reply:

    I know. When I turned 35 I talked a lot about entering middle age and everybody kept saying no, no, this isn’t middle age, middle age is more like 50! And I looked at them and said middle age is a RANGE, not a single point! Hello! No less an expert than Jung said middle age begins at 35 … xoxo

  14. Jan
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I’m 57. Grey hair, mortgage, 2 children (one in college, one in hs–we started late), looking seriously at retirement, and my father dead these 11 years…and yet, I am still surprised, at times, that I’m actually a parent, that these nearly-grown people think I’m their mother, of all things!

    When my mother was on her deathbed in February and my sister (age 60) and I were discussing “final arrangements,” we were both suddenly struck with the sense that, NOW we’re finally grown-ups. It’s that lurch of the ferris wheel, I think: we are now the oldest at any family gathering.

    So, the message, I guess, is that there will always be a part of you that feels like a little girl, or at least a young adult. A kid. Keeps us mentally healthy, I suppose.

    admin Reply:

    I’m glad to hear that, actually – that part of me will always feel this disbelief at my “actual” age. I am sure it does keep it young. xox

  15. Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I think this feeling you write of is because of having children, not despite it. I’m 37 and the feeling has become a near-constant with me ever since I had children. I simply cannot believe I am who my parents are–in my eyes they are always this age and I am always a child. I certainly get through daily life as an adult, I make decisions and parent as an adult, I just don’t feel like an adult.

    admin Reply:

    Interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. You may well be right!! xox

  16. Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I became an adult the moment I finally stopped waiting. I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I was in a dress rehearsal for a show that was going to blow me away. Now when I look around, I feel my mortality almost viscerally, even though I’m only/already 38.

    admin Reply:

    We are the exact same age, then. The almost/only tension is so resonant. As is the notion of stopping waiting. xox

  17. Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I hit 40 last year (I’ll be in Boston for 41!) and I know exactly how you feel. It was almost as if an alarm went off and I awoke from the dream where I’m a perpetual 25-year-old. ‘Who are these people? How did these kids get here? Who’s house is this? Who am I?”

    It’s almost like I’m impersonating a grown-up rather than being one. Denial…it’s nature’s anti-depressant. :)

    admin Reply:

    I know just what you mean! As I said below, I always say I’m waiting for the real parents to come home. And yet they never seem to. I look over my shoulder, like really? You want ME to do this? xoxo

  18. Posted April 29, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I can still remember my college days as if they were yesterday. Sometimes, it is hard to believe how far we’ve come.

    As the saying goes, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Enjoy the hell out of every single one.

    admin Reply:

    That’s one of the truest true sayings … xox

  19. Katie
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Loved this Lindsey! I was just reading an article in Spirituality & Health magazine by a Rabbi who equates different stages in our lives to months in the year. Birth-7 is January, 8-14 is February, and so on. He talks about how when we get to October – November, we have the opportunity (or most people finally let themselves do this) to fully let go of what others except us to be and the “shoulds” of life and let ourselves truly just be. It was a little unsettling to think of the month I am in and the precious time I have left, but it was also beautiful to look at it like the seasons and how summer is when we can fully come to life. The wind-down of fall is the time to turn in for hibernation and reflection. It was a great article and your writing combined with it just brought more beauty and curiosity to that topic for me. thank you! xo

    admin Reply:

    I love this image and it resonates with me. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about being in the “full summer of life” – makes total sense. But bittersweet, yes. xox

  20. Deborah
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Right — it’s kinda like a big ol’ benevolent joke on God’s part, a joke and a wink.

    admin Reply:

    I think you’re right!

  21. Posted April 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    So much of both my waking and my dreaming moments are spent contemplating these questions. I’ll be 44 in July. Forty-four. It’s mind-boggling and made even more confusing by the fact that I have so few of the accoutrements of “adulthood” – no husband, no children, no mortgage, no CEO label following my name. So, when one’s life has an outward patina so similar to the one it had 20 years ago, how the hell am I supposed to process that I’m most likely closer to death than to birth. It makes my head spin and tempts me to start sucking my thumb.

    admin Reply:

    Interesting – I don’t feel as though those accoutrements make me feel like an adult, but who knows, right? Alas. I will join you in heading back to bed, pulling the covers up and sucking my thumb!

  22. Posted April 29, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I remember you saying to me once, “I keep waiting for the real mom to show up”. I’ve thought of that often, smiled and nodded for I share that sentiment.

    I, as you know, turned 40 last summer. I love so much of what comes with age–maturity, confidence, experience, intelligence, more ease. I enjoy being 40 MUCH more than I did being 20. However, I admit that I’m having a harder time with the physicality of aging–this year I’ve noticed a more marked progression of time’s march on my face, my neck, my triceps, my knees…sigh. And that it even bothers me makes me feel so vain!

    admin Reply:

    I know what you mean – both the concern and the immediate flood of guilt for being vain. xox

  23. Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I turn 39 in August. So far my thirties are so much better than my twenties or teens. The year I turned 30, I had a mini-crisis: I was still single and had just had an awful breakup, my dad had just died of cancer, and I hated my job and where I was living. During the last several years, I’ve gotten married, had a baby, moved to a new city, gotten my doctorate, started a new career, bought a house. I love my thirties for being the time when you redefine adulthood for yourself. And I hope my forties are a continuation of that. I wouldn’t go back to twenties or college years for anything!

    admin Reply:

    We are the exact same age. What day? I’m the 16th. I really love what you say about the 30ths being the time of self-determination. I agree with that, and need to remember it when I find myself longing for the olden days. xo

  24. Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Once again it feels as if you are reading my mind. I’m almost 10 years older than you, but this is all that’s been swirling there for the past 2 weeks.

    I found out my first love is dying. I went to visit him a week ago, and before I left he gave me a stack of photos from when we were a couple. First, there is this unbelievable fact: They were taken nearly 30 years ago. That number, it floors me.

    And then, there were the pictures. I still feel so much like the young woman I was in them, in so many ways. But, I am undeniably not her. In my mind, I still think I look like her. But I look at the photos and look in the mirror, and no, I am not. Not at all.

    When I look at her, I see a child-woman. She was so, so young. I keep wondering, when and how did she leave? At what moments? In one, I see my son–the photo looks so much like him it truly stopped my breath. Of course, he is now only 4 years younger than I was in the photo.

    Aging always seemed such an abstract construct to me. I look in the mirror, and see that it is, in fact, quite concrete. In some ways. But the happening of it–that’s as impossible to hold as any theory.

    admin Reply:

    Wow. I am sorry to hear about that person’s illness. What you say about photos gives me goosebumps, because it is so familiar. I know just what you mean: I feel like I still AM that girl in those photos, even while recognizing that I am absolutely not. And then the awareness that our children are now much closer to that age than we are – incredible. You’re right it’s both concrete and incredibly inchoate at the same time, this aging, this passage of time, this LIFE. xox

  25. Posted April 29, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I wish I was as insightful as you.. I feel grown – up when I realize a naked man is walking through my house and I don’t giggle every time, I still oddly feel it when I realize I am not only driving.. but I own my car.. and when I have ice cream for dinner.. because I can 😉 I must admit to also feeling it while buying a bottle of wine the other night… from what appeared to be a 12 year old.


    admin Reply:

    I am having ice cream for dinner tonight, and smiling thinking of you! xo

  26. Posted April 29, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I loved reading this (and all the responses too)! I too am always looking over my shoulder for the real mom to show up, or for MY mom to show up. The other night as I was tucking Mia into bed I was swept right back to childhood and I could hear my mom’s voice as she read to me, I felt the crisp sheets beneath me and the sounds of summer outside my window. It’s these kinds of moments when I think, “I can’t believe how quickly life has brought me to this point. I am my mom.”

    admin Reply:

    I know exactly what you mean. I find those moments almost unbearably bittersweet, sometimes – the weight of all that will never come again presses on me such that I can’t breathe, but at the same time I am overwhelmingly grateful to have such memories.

  27. Posted April 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Your writing is as gorgeous as always, dear Lindsey!

    My experience, though, is so different. I felt too serious, too adult, as a child, as if I was born 30 years old. When I turned 30 I finally began to feel at home in my skin and vowed to be more young, more childlike, as much as I could.

    Yes, there have been those moments of realization – the worst was when it suddenly occurred to me that both of our dogs *and* both of our cats are technically geriatric, and the sense of foreboding and wishing for nothing to change that came with that.

    But what I have really learned is how available Wonder and Beauty are to us, each and every moment. It feels childlike in its simplicity to become lost in the beauty of a flower or a butterfly, but I’ll happily be late for a meeting, or lose the serious adult conversation to do just that.

    Adult? yes. Grown up? Only as much as I need to be.

    Hugs and butterflies,

    admin Reply:

    I love what you say about wonder and beauty – perhaps that is one of the main tasks of adulthood, realizing with that childlike sense of openness how each is available in almost every moment. xoxo

  28. Posted April 29, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I am supposed to be putting my kids to bed, so this will be short. Love it. And yes. Yes. (I mean no. No, I do not feel like an adult.)

    admin Reply:

    :) xoxo

  29. Posted April 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said: “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened.” That is how I feel about growing old AND adulthood.

    admin Reply:

    OK that is 100% perfect. Love.

  30. Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Whenever a smoke detector/toy/computer mouse/flashlight runs out of batteries, and I casually go down to the basement to get new batteries – *whatever the size* – from my basket of batteries, I am struck with the feeling that I must surely be an adult, though I almost never feel it. Today I was biking along on my single speed, feeling so free and definitely closer to 10 years old than 40 years old, and then suddenly wondered if it looked weird to pedestrians that this middle aged person was pumping along so gleefully.

    admin Reply:

    Sometimes I get looks that make me wonder the same on the swing at the playground. Swinging is one of the great joys for me!! Not so adult, that, I guess …

  31. Ali Dubin
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ladies,
    I am the editor of an antholgy written by 40 women who are within a year of turning 40. I have 8 spaces left if any of you writers are interested in talking to me about joining in. : )

  32. Amy
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the reading of the alumni from engineering/business school gets me too. I still feel like a kid who just graduated not too long ago! I feel most like an “adult” when filing my taxes and most like a “kid” when my 7 yr old and I are giggling hysterically on his bed.

    admin Reply:

    I hope I never stop giggling like that with my kids! xox

  33. Posted May 2, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    What a thoughtful post. You know, I don’t really relate to my 18-year old self at all anymore. I had so much to learn at that age, so much yet to see. Same with my college self. I feel a lot of that learning was completed as I rounded out my 20s. And my 30s has definitely been the decade where I’ve felt most comfortable in my own self, felt most complete as a human being. I will turn 40 this winter and I’m not sure what to think. By that time, our son will be three and so much of our world is focused on him and all the milestones he reaches that I sometimes forget that I’m still growing older, too.

    admin Reply:

    I know – we can be so focused on them that we forget us, don’t you think? In so many senses of the word. xox

  34. Posted May 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I am 42, but I often still feel 22. Except with more wisdom and a few more wrinkles. I wouldn’t go back; this is the best time of my life!

    admin Reply:

    You remind me that that is true here as well! Thank you. xox

  35. Valerie
    Posted May 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I too will be 39 soon, and never felt completely like an adult until I had my first child at age 29. I had been married for 5 years by that point and even with being a wife, I never fully felt like an adult. Still now, the adult feeling is fleeting. I think inside I will always feel like somewhere between 20 and 25…only much wiser :)

    admin Reply:

    I think that’s the range I’ll always feel, too. I’m still figuring out if I feel wiser, or if that was just all an illusion! :)

  36. michele proctor
    Posted June 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    My husband and I were just laughing about this subject the other day. My son is 16 months old, I’m 34 and my husband is 37. We have a very sweet babysitter who is 18 and just graduated high school. We communicate with her via text because it’S just easier.I was looking at her twitter feed the other day (which is not private, someone should prob tell her that). Every tweet was just teenage inside jokes, harmless stuff… until I got to May 29, which said “I hate texting adults! #Awkward” I immediately went back through my texts with her looking at the dates, was it me!? Is it true am I an ADULT to an 18 year old!? I texted my husband and gave him the date…just as we thought, it was him! He was the adult! Noooo! Are we really adults to a senior in high school? This realization got me thinking, I don’t consider myself old enough to be an adult. But younger people do. When did this transformation occur? Was it when we got married? Was it when we bought our house? Was it when we refinanced our house? Was it when our son was born? Was it the first “No!” said to a toddler? We both are still wondering, but has a good belly laugh trying to figure it out.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I’m laughing. I definitely have had moments when I realize my college-aged babysitters, whom I think of as being closer to my age than my kids’, are for sure not at ALL my age. xo