Along with “woke” (aware of societal injustice, especially racism) and “coulrophobia” (fear of clowns), adulting made the 2016 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year list. I like word lists, and I’ve done an awful lot of “adulting” lately, and so perhaps it was inevitable that at some point my jumble of thoughts would turn into a blog post.
The Word of the Year list defines “adulting” this way:
The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.
These last six months have been very busy for us. I didn’t write most of the summer and then wrote a hello-its-me-I’m-back post in September, and then pretty much fell off a cliff immediately afterwards. There are many reasons for this: within a week of the school year starting up, we decided to buy a house and got word that our permanent residency application had been approved (This is HUGE. Here’s backstory if you need it!) This triggered an avalanche of paperwork, and I dutifully donned my administrative SCUBA gear and dove headfirst into the depths. Six weeks later, my kids were falling apart at the seams from neglect, and we still had to finish packing up and moving house. Our new house is wonderful in most every way, except that what we had hoped would be a minor “updating” of the kitchen turned into a complete-gutting-and-remodel when we found some structural problems that needed to be addressed. For the record, we’ve been in our house for 7 weeks now and still don’t have a kitchen. Not a sink. Not a countertop. Not a single working outlet in that room. sigh.
In the midst of this, I turned 40 – a milestone I wish I was cool enough and mentally healthy enough not to have dreaded as I did, but whatever. Turning 40 is like a mean game of hide and seek: no matter where you hide, the countdown continues and it’s coming whether you’re ready or not. But being found by the big-four-oh wasn’t as bad as I’d feared (the build-up is always worse than the thing itself, I think.) Mostly, I’d been afraid that the big milestone birthday would include some sort of reckoning of my worth: if I wasn’t wildly celebrated would that mean I didn’t have friends? If I still didn’t have a work permit and closed out my thirties without having had a paying job for a decade, did that mean I’d wasted it? These are silly questions when you speak them out loud, but they can shout quite loudly when you’re up at 3:30am contemplating kitchenlessness.
I hate 3:30am.
This is what happened on my fortieth birthday: I canceled brunch with a friend because I needed to troubleshoot a crisis with the countertop installation in the kitchen. I then sat at home and paid bills and did laundry. I shampooed marker out of my son’s carpet. I answered the phone. I read two hundred Facebook messages and smiled at each and every one of them. I drove carpool, picked my kids up from school, and they had piano lessons. I adulted.
And I was okay with that.
Part of the reason I was okay was that I had received the perfect card from my husband that morning, and I read and re-read his words multiple times throughout the day. He acknowledged that he knew I’d been anxious about this birthday and he wished we’d been able to do something really big to celebrate: something on our bucket list like a trip to Italy! But, he said, when we look back on this season of our lives, perhaps it won’t have been the most fun birthday, but it was a season in which we bought a house we love, raised children, and changed countries. “Perhaps we will look back on this as the time we finally became grownups,” he said.
I laughed through tears as I read that. How ridiculous that we should be in our FORTIES before we were ready to acknowledge we were grownups. But therein lies the paradox of “adulting”. Unlike a student card or a drivers’ license or a passport, nobody issues you were a “Grownup card” to make it official. We feel for years and years and years that overarching sense of continuity between our teen selves and the person we are now. Surely we would know we were adults because we would feel different? And yet we don’t feel different – the evidence of wrinkles and a spreading butt notwithstanding – and so it seems somehow strange to have crossed that threshold without it being official in some way.
And so it is that when we are adults who somehow still vividly remember being 20 and on-the-cusp-of-adulthood, and we find ourselves filling our days with mundane but necessary tasks, we need a word to describe it: “adulting”. As if these were activities abnormal to our true state of (carefree, youthful) being. As if we were really big children playing “house” where I pretend to be the mom and he pretends to be the dad and we pretend to go to the store and make dinner.
Nope. We’re not adulting. We’re adults. This is not a dress rehearsal. As it turns out, we’ve been adults for a while. And maybe turning 40 is not so bad when I realize it is not an unfair number to slap onto a feels-much-younger self. It’s exactly the right number for someone who has lived and loved and learned for 40 years.
After my ordinary day of regular tasks as an adult on my birthday (note, I didn’t say adulting), my husband took me out for dinner. Towards the end of dinner, two friends—dressed like clowns!—rapped at the restaurant window and kidnapped me for a surprise birthday party, complete with chocolate fondue and the world’s largest balloons. We drank liquor without being carded, and at the end of the evening we all headed home to our love-and-responsibility-filled-houses. This, too, was adulting: the up-side of having responsibility and freedom and choice… and luckily no-one with coulrophobia.