It happens all the time, in different places and moments. Tonight, it was as I was putting the spices away in the cupboard, and I felt like I was in my mom’s kitchen, because…obviously…I am not old enough to have my OWN spice cupboard. Spice cupboards are for grownups who have more spices than salt, pepper, and cinnamon. (I have mustard powder, and coriander, and many others; hell, I made my own garam masala.) Grownups who have kitchens. Grownups who have kitchens in houses they (and the bank) own. (It’s not even like this is my first house. I’ve had 3 different mortgages and one refinance. Only grownups know about refinancing.) Grownups who cook dinner every night like they know what they’re doing.
Shit…I guess I’ve been a grownup for longer than I realize.
And that’s really the mindfuck in a nutshell: I do all these things that are nominally adult activities, and sometimes the grownupness of it all hits me out of the blue and blows me away because I feel like I just got my first apartment, and learned the hard way that you can’t leave your supersized box of Crunchberries too close to your economy pack of Dial soap bars in the grocery bag for too long, or all your Crunchberries will taste like soap, which you will eat anyway because cereal is expensive, and it’s your own stupid fault for not putting your groceries away the minute you got home. (True story.)
I asked my folks the other day if it was weird for them that their children were middle-aged. Because at our house, with no two-legged kids of our own, we don’t watch time pass in the obvious ways our friends with children do, with the many milestones of youth keeping time for them in undeniable ways. They said no, because we all have grown older together; it’s been a gradual thing.
Over the years, I’ve heard comments from elderly folks that, while their bodies might beg to differ, they don’t feel old in their heads, and I think this is pretty universal. I suppose, like them, I can run down a long list of life events that could only have been experienced by someone who’s been around awhile. But while I think I’m one of the more competent adults I know, sometimes I wake up in the middle of my life, shake my head in surprise, and wonder when I grew up enough to do home improvement projects and own a citrus zester and have a 401K.
I wonder about the weird calculus of life that makes years hang so heavy on you that you feel too tired, mentally and physically, to move one day, and that vaporizes those years so thoroughly that you don’t know why your back hurts, or even why anyone thought it was a good idea for you to cross the street without holding someone’s hand the next. Sometimes I think back to my first year teaching, and marvel that anyone thought 22-year-old me should be let loose amongst the young and impressionable and trusted to teach them something. I mean, I thought that’s what I should be doing, too; I did it, and it was fine–they did learn–but honestly, at twice that age, my faith in 22-year-olds isn’t what it was back when I was one of them; I was just a kid.
I was just thinking the other day how weird it was that I’ve been “retired” to full-time homemaking for almost 4 years now, but somehow it still feels like a new arrangement to me. Yet, when I wasn’t looking, it became my life; it just hasn’t registered yet. And I don’t really know how that’s possible.
I think a lot about time, and what a simultaneously malleable and meaningless concept it is, at least for me. The Zen masters and other enlightened souls will tell you that all we have is now, the past being out of reach anyway, and the future not yet a reality. But while I agree on the surface of the words, to me, the idea that all we have is now is that all the nows we’ve ever lived are still here, still now–they don’t go anywhere–our “now” just expands with the years, because we have so many more nows. Barring cognitive deficit or steadfast denial, all those nows are instantly accessible, not as memories as much as infinite facets of a cumulative now that holds us in its hand at all times…or rather, no time. The past isn’t carefully compartmentalized and arranged as we tend to think, and the future is no more non-existent than the mountains we can see from miles away. We may not be there yet, but they surely ARE, now, not suddenly manifesting as we arrive in some imagined future. We may turn before we get to them, or crash into the ditch and never make it, but they’re absolutely there, whether we go that way or not.
Does anyone else feel this way about time? Or about themselves? The only time in my life I’ve ever felt like I understood, or experienced, imposter syndrome is in being a grownup–honestly, I don’t think we ever really grow up. We just grow older, collecting our infinite nows, and with any luck, we learn from this now and apply it to the rest of them.