You can't predict what's going to make you feel grown up. Graduation? Maybe. Paying bills? There's an element of adulthood in that. Watching your grandparents pass away? It's sobering. All these things added to the moment I had my epiphany. The instant in which a flood of knowing washed over me that I was, for better or worse, ready or not, grown up. It was the instant I knew I would never stop growing. I've always had a little trouble with the phrase "grown up." After all, my ears and nose never stop growing, why should I? Naturally I want my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health to be in proportion with each other. It would be a shame for my ears and nose to outgrow all those elements of my health. People might say, "there goes that immature girl with really big ears." My motto is: grow until you die.
Recently I graduated from college and moved out of my apartment. As I watched my dad pack boxes, bags, bikes and laundry baskets full of my stuff into my tiny little Honda Accord, all with a Mary Poppins-like magic about him, it hit me. When will I not need dad's help jamming large things into tiny spaces or need his council when boys are just plain jerks? When will I not need to ask mom how to get a stain out or how much of her secret ingredient she puts in her spaghetti sauce, or to hold my hand and pray with me? When will I not need to call my big sister for advice or boss my little sisters around? I hope that day never comes. (My little sisters might feel different, however.)
Among the many moments that step me little by little out of childhood and are slowly leading me into adulthood, there are a few that stand out as leaps more than steps. The night my grandmother passed away was one of the giants. In my room all alone away at college, I waited for the call. Every time my family called I dreaded the news and had to force myself to pick up. My roommates weren't home, the house was quiet except for my neighbors in the backyard I could look down into from my upstairs window. Their kids were playing in the tree house and they sounded so happy. It was getting late. I don't remember what time it was exactly because the last thing on my mind was the clock. The lights from my neighbors' backyard were casting a pleasant glow into the dimness of my room as the night sky grew darker, but my mood was anything but pleasant. I was numb. Finally my sister's well known ring tone broke the muffled sound of laughter and chatter below me. Somehow, before I picked up, I knew. I sat down on my bed and unfolded my phone. "Ellie?" In between choked down sobs I heard, "Karen, it's happening. Do you want to talk to grandma?" I didn't want to because I didn't know what to say over the phone to a person who is taking their final breaths... but how could I say no? "Sure" I said, stunned. She put the phone up to Grandma's ear and I told her I loved her very much. That's all I could think to say, or get out of my mouth. After a while Ellie told me quietly that grandma was gone. When I hung up the phone, I laid down on my bed, my body curled up in the corner against the wall. Loneliness is all I felt. A few tears rolled down my cheeks, but after some time passed I stood up and got to work. I had to unpack that duffle bag that had been sitting unzipped on my floor for, well let's just say too long. I had to put my pajamas on and finish an assignment for class in the morning. I still had life to face, and no one was around to do it for me.
Moments like these don't only happen to grown-ups. When I have to change a flat tire, fix a broken pipe, call and hassle the landlord, advise my sisters on matters of the heart, listen to close friends whose kids are struggling with health problems or confront boys who don't know how to treat girls, I don't think: now I'm grown up. Life will always be full of those moments. The day I first re-used a piece of tinfoil instead of mindlessly tossing it in the garbage, I noted a growing similarity to my grandmother. And the day I brushed the crumbs from a sandwich off a relatively sturdy paper plate, in order to reuse the plate later on, I felt as if I was propelling toward the likeness of my grandmother at an alarming rate. That didn't stop my frugal actions, however. I don't mind one bit being like my mother and grandmother, but I know I have a long way to go, just like they still have a long way to go in emulating their mothers and grandmothers. So you see, grown-ups don't exist. To those who think grown-ups do exist, and that they are one of them, probably have the most growing to do out of anyone.
The next time I find myself doing something resembling maturity or the wisdom of age, I will embrace it as part of my lifelong journey of growing. I better call the doctor to change my appointment, take my pills and change my oil.