Adulthood isn’t what I thought it would be. Somehow I expected that getting here would mean being more clear and certain about anything than I’ve ever been and knowing exactly what the right thing to do is in all circumstances. Obviously, that’s not the case. Folks older than me might wonder at how I could hold such a commonplace misconception, but maybe they have forgotten that life lessons are learned in stages, and you can’t arrive before your time.
Youthful certainties about many things seem far away now. It was so much easier to be twenty years old and sure. On the one hand less disdainful than our parents and on the other more judgmental of human failures as well as falls through the cracks between black and white. I guess the more you have to forgive your daily mistakes and accept your decisions is the more you come to appreciate that the adults you thought should have known the answers were, in fact, just doing their best and being manifestly human.
‘Wait until you become a parent’, parents like to say and, of course, they are right. Nothing makes you finally learn patience with parents’ idiosyncrasies and fallibility like hoping that, one day, your own children will love you for whoever you are and whatever you have done even if you could have done better or differently at any number of moments in their life. You realize that beneath a surface of surety is an ocean of imperfection, making you only human too.
Ironically, it’s at that point that real connection with others comes. Your interactions are not directed by ideologies or ideals, but by greater understanding and compassion. We may expect logic or consistency, correct responses, moral high-ground and even a willingness to grow as needed, but what we do and what we get just is. It’s powerful stuff, getting to an age when, as neither youth nor elder, you are the most in control of your life as you will ever be and, yet, are immersed in the fullness of the world, the complexity of relationships and the depths of emotions which all provide rock-hard knowledge as well as ever unstable ground.
People – us, our parents and our children – can only try to keep our heads above water as life ebbs and flows in every direction. Forget black and white, all is shifting waves of in-between. Growing up is full of messy, contradictory opportunities to discover and practice clarity and, hopefully, multiple permutations of good intention, personal responsibility and thoughtful love.
Maybe there are no right answers, only the best you can do in the moment given what you are now discovering and what you already know. Maybe the things I am now discovering, about motherhood or marriage, womanhood, work or age, are no longer worth conversation amongst those who have been here long before, but every generation must discover for itself the experience and wisdom to which elders have grown accustomed. We need to hear, but also to feel.
Welcome to adulthood indeed. Give thanks.