I’m 57 and getting closer to being a grownup. I’ve been in middle school in my mind as long as I can remember. My father’s recent death and navigating my fifties are helping me mature. In this decade, much like adolescence, things change a lot. Your body and mind morph in ways that are hard to adapt to. Your flesh gives way and your memory begins to flicker like a light bulb with a bad connection.
I’m dumbfounded when I can’t remember my neighbors’ names. We’ve lived next to each other for twenty years. Geez. My face, recently a collection of fine lines, is starting to look like the aftermath of a mud slide with the bottom half pooling on either side of my chin.
The thing that’s really weird is that I still have the mind of a middle-schooler. The same exuberance, insecurities, righteousness, curiosity and cynicism. I’m just missing the body. When I look in the mirror sometimes I think, “Who is that?” and “What the heck?” because I just had a puppy jump on my face, and it was so fun. Or I’m just sooo excited about the Rodin exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I walked toward his epic sculpture, The Hand of God, the impulse to jump up and down and exclaim, “This is so amazing!” almost took over. Instead, I leaned into my friend’s ear and whispered the words.
When my dad died in June, I had to push the envelope and try to think like a grownup. Otherwise, I’d be a mean old wreck. I had to forgive and accept things happening in my family that were way outside the norms of acceptable behavior. Most of all, and hardest of all for me, I had to remove the plunger on my heart. You don’t have to let people suck the life out of you because you want to be “a good person.” Translation: loved, admired and included.
Based on recent experience, I decided to define what grownups do. The ones with good characters. These rules for being a good grownup are posted on my refrigerator so I can read, remember and practice them. It always helps to have reminders hanging around your home. Next I am going to print them with an elegant typeface on thick, creamy paper because they are important.
- You understand that you can only change a few things if you’re lucky. You start with yourself. Good luck to all of us!
- You try not to take things personally, even when they’re personal. People filter opinions through their experiences, fears and prejudices. Most people rarely have the time or inclination to get to really know you.
- Your opinions are not facts. They’re not necessarily even a good idea. I listen to myself sometimes and am horrified afterward when I reflect on the certainty in my voice. Just because I read 15 articles about gun violence recently (being obsessive) doesn’t mean I know everything on the subject. I want to offer my apologies and condolences to my friend Judith who listened politely to my recent speech on gun control. And many others.
- Same goes for values. Good for you for yours. You can share them with your family, but no one else unless it’s your job or someone asks you what your values are. No one ever asks.
- No matter how insecure you are, you recognize that you only need a few people to love you and you choose them wisely. You also invest your time in them and not all the la, la and blah, blah that whirls around and beckons you.
- You accept and try to forgive. Deep down forgiveness is really hard. Trying is what counts.
No one does these things all the time. Being a reasonable, enlightened adult is a work in progress. Yesterday, I sat on a bench outside the Larchmont Library, one of my favorite spots. Larchmont is the small town, just north of Manhattan, where my father lived on and off for over fifty years. The trees beside the bench filtered the afternoon sun, letting just enough through for comfort, which I sorely needed. I am in Larchmont to settle my dad’s affairs, and a couple of cousins are turning my sadness into the kind of drama that sucks the life out of you. I’ve been trying to make them happy with money so they love me again. On the warm bench in the dappled sunlight, I began to inch away from this family drama and my compulsive need to fix it. I let go of their pain and accepted that things may never change for them. It was a glorious grownup moment.