Sometimes it’s in the way they look at me, and sometimes in what they say, but every so often I catch my kids trying to get the drop on what it’s like to be an adult.
“You get to stay up however late you want. It’s not fair.”
or “When I’m a grown up, I’ll drive my car to get ice cream whenever I want.”
Granted, those are two of the primo benefits of adulthood, along with control of the radio, giant coffee drinks and Showtime. Plus, at restaurants, you get to choose from a wine list. It’s not a bad gig.
I don’t remember much about what how I thought being a grownup might look, back when I was a kid. It seemed like hard work, and everyone seemed tired. Hmm. Check, and check. Maybe those two small observations weren’t so off after all.
Given the current economic conditions, any kind of philosophizing sounds self-indulgent and, boy, do I know it. All of us are taking a hit, and the more esoteric fancies are bound to take a way-back seat to the more pressing concerns of how to heat the house this winter or figuring out how a small word like bailout means something as big as we’re all screwed. (Oh, and you, too, kids. Sorry ’bout that.) None of us, when times are hard, should get to pretend that they’re not.
So we go on. What choice is there?
We eat, we work, we laugh, we drink. The lucky among us have someone we need, in our blood, someone whose voice is enough to bring us back from the edge. Someone whose tangle of legs in the morning makes the day bearable. Still others of us do what must be done, neither sad nor glad about it most of the time, deferring to the evenness of circumstance, even when it cuts in line ahead of love or passion so often that we forget to protest anymore. With so much to do, we hardly ever take a long look at who we love and why, or wonder if it’s all wrong or the truest thing. We need, we take what serves us, and we get on with it. We accept that not all of us are meant for the epic stories, for the soaring music at the end of a movie.
But sometimes, for no reason that makes any sense, we cry for what we’ve denied ourselves, for what has been denied us. For what we know is gone, and will stay gone. And then, because that’s what grownups do, we shake it off and give ourselves credit for hanging in there through the hard years. We take measure of our blessings, and call it enough – and it is, most of the time.
It’s tricky, finding the sweet spot between wanting more and knowing if it’s enough, between what is and what might be. But there’s not much wrong with trying, in whatever small and silly way, to build a satisfying pile of great moments, big enough to impress even the worst spell of trouble.
Someday my children will reach middle age, and I wonder what they will think of their lives, if they will escape the heaviness of disappointment over things they didn’t do or roads they didn’t take.
Or will they have learned, better than their mother, that it ain’t over ’til it’s over?
I really hope so.
And it’s so not over until someone goes for ice cream.