When I was in college, I worked at a sleep-away camp in the summer. With my major in elementary education, I was almost always placed with the youngest campers. One week, however, they needed me to supervise a middle school cabin group.
As the parents were checking in their 13 and 14 year-old daughters, I did my best to meet each family and listen to any special directions. I noticed one mom was frantically looking around the cabin, clearly distressed.
I went to talk to her, expecting to easily alleviate any concerns. When I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she had any questions, she replied in a panicked tone, “I was under the impression there would be an adult here!”
I was that adult, maybe barely so, but I was 19, and that made me old enough to lead a middle school cabin group for a week. But gifted with a baby face, I looked a lot younger than I actually was, so I’m pretty sure that mom had mistaken me for one of the 14-year-old campers.
Today, I think about the words that mother uttered often, but not in reference to the young adults who care care for my own children at summer camp or the swimming pool. Instead, I find myself—in oh-so-many situations in my daily life—wondering where in the world the adult in the room has gone.
Where is the adult when…
I need to apply top and bottom eye liner?
I need to itemize my taxes?
I need to fold a fitted sheet?
I want perfect beach waves instead of my crazy curls?
I have to pick the best health insurance plan?
I have to feed the kids dinner…again?
Every time, it turns out, I am the adult I’m looking for.
I am turning 40. I’ve been out of high school for 21 years and teaching for 16. I’ve been married with a mortgage for 14 years, and I’ve been a parent for almost 13. The math works; I’m an adult.
My body is certainly acting like one. In recent years, I’ve experienced the persistent and steady weight gain that comes with age. I’ve started paying big bucks to have my stylist cover my gray hairs, and I’ve even been encouraged to visit a rheumatologist to see if I may have arthritis issues.
That is all old people stuff…bona fide adulthood.
My brain, however, has not caught up with my body. I still look for someone to help me out. I still look for an adult to swoop me up and tell me everything is going to be okay. Sometimes, I still want a grown up to just sweep away the obstacles that come my way.
It’s not that I don’t have a support system when times are tough. I have a wonderful mom and dad and am blessed with amazing in-laws.
I have a great husband whose strengths complement my weaknesses in so many ways. He has helped me out a million times, but he is not omnipresent, nor can he help me when it comes to styling perfect beach waves.
Most days I feel like a forty-year-old fraud. I am someone who is old enough to know better, but who still can’t do so many things.
I can’t really parallel park.
I can barely keep houseplants alive.
I can’t stand coffee.
I can’t French braid my girls’ hair.
I’m never sure what lane I’m supposed to use on the west mixmaster.
And I won’t even touch a dessert that has fruit in it.
But worst of all, when things get tough—when I’m stressed out about my lack of budgeting skills, or I’m Googling the recipe for beanies and weenies, or I’m digging to find a clean shirt to wear to work—I, like the mother at my summer camp, just want to look around and shriek, “I was under the impression there would be an adult here!”’
It turns out, I can grow up but still feel childish.
It turns out, I’m the adult.