“This is quite grown up, isn’t it?” commented Ness on Friday, as we stood in the bleak corridor of Self Storage while the two Nice Young Men walked to and fro from the van to the storage unit, carting Granny’s Dresser, Granny’s fold-up camper mattress, and the bed frame that we’d proudly taken apart ourselves that morning.
It would probably have felt more grown up if Ness was moving her things into a large house in the country, rather than into an interim storage solution. That aside, I could see where she was coming from. After all, we’d dismantled the bed into manageable chunks, got the huge mattress down two flights of stairs all by ourselves, scrubbed out several plastic crates, then sped round the Ring Road in pursuit of the van containing Ness’s furniture and boxed-up clutter. It did feel pretty grown up.
I am starting to resign myself to the fact that I’ll probably never really be authentically grown up in the way that I’d anticipated being by now. Nonetheless, I seem to be perfecting the art of faking it. I do this through grown up activities like phoning the City Council to talk about Council Tax as if I know what I’m talking about, or by going to work, or cleaning my kitchen, or driving. A late-starter on the driving front, every time I get behind the wheel – especially if I’m going to Do-A-Food-Shop which involves a family-sized trolley and a Clubcard – I feel a bit like I’ve made it.
Some things, like these, make me feel grown up. Others just make me feel old.
Like when I look out of the window and see sunshine, and the first thought that pops into my head is that it’s a Good Drying Day. With scarily genuine excitement, I hurry down to the washing machine to get clothes cleaned and on the line before I go out.
Like when I’m at work chatting to a ‘young person’ who was born in 1993, trying desperately to compute the fact that enough years have passed – since a time which feels like yesterday – for a child to be born, toddle, walk, talk, complete primary education and have muddled their way through most of their adolescence.
Like when I realise that it’s more than 10 years since I lived in Madrid; more than 15 since GCSEs; and more than 20 since the Berlin Wall came down or I danced around my friend’s living room to Kylie’s Locomotion. [This is not as bad as Kitty, mind you, who thought that it couldn’t be more than 6 or so years since Pat Cash won Wimbledon. 1987, Kitty! 1987!]
And then there’s the ultimate in grownupness: doing parental activities. Sometimes – horror of horrors – even being mistaken for a parent myself, when it surely seems obvious that I’m clearly not old enough for such a terrifying and exhausting responsibility. With no script but a bit of improvisation, I recently took my godson Aidan to his friend’s 5th party, bending down to give him a little pep talk before adding my mobile number to the parents’ emergency contact list. I accompanied 6 year old Alice to gym, camouflaging myself among the parents discussing PTA meetings, child friendly restaurants and local parks, and finding myself overcome by a rush of conviction that Alice was quite objectively better than the rest of the leotarded infants prancing around the hall. And I faced a battle of wills stand-off with my friends’ 2 year old, observed by a playground-full of parents (who, I reason hopefully, are faking their grownupness as much as I am). “Nathanael, I’m going to count to three [no signs of surrender], one…two…three…” I’m desperately hoping that he at least will fall for my charade of being an adult who knows what she’s doing.
After two days of storage units and house-cleaning, I ended my Saturday with the experience which probably prompted these current angsty ponderings. The epitome of maturity: being asked to collect a 16 year old girl who goes to my church’s youth group to ferry her from her house to a city-wide youth event.
I chat to her dad before we drive off, promising that someone would ensure she got dropped home safely (grown up conversation), but on our way I feel like I’m simply chatting to a friend, as we discuss her family, friends, school, and the frustrations of a new retainer (even though I’m driving – driving!- and she was born in the 1990s.) But as I get back into the car – having gone inside to chat with her until her friends come, then melting away into parental oblivion as they arrive – I find myself looking forward to a quiet evening in with some frozen M&S food and a cup of tea. I am hit by the enormity of it all.
As I settle down with my oven food and i-player – not with resignation or panic, but with genuine enjoyment and relief at not having to go out or see anyone after a busy week – I smile at the memory of a conversation which showed that it’s not just me who’s confused by where on earth I’m at with life.
It was at my goddaughter Hannah’s 7th birthday party that I overheard a conversation with her and her little friend Emily. Being seven, they hadn’t quite clocked my grown up ability to listen without looking.
“Who’s that?” Asks little Emily, nodding in my direction.
“That’s Emily.” Says Hannah, definitively, not feeling any need to qualify my presence there or to explain my existence as Mummy and Daddy’s friend who visits a lot just to hang out with the family.
“But, who is she?” Insists Emily, “is she a mum?”
“No, she’s not a mum,” Hannah replies, “She doesn’t have children, so she can’t be a mum.”
“Well, what is she then? (Not sure I like the shift from ‘who’ to ‘what’, but hey, she’s seven.) “A teenager?”
“No,” says Hannah looking at Emily like she’s a bit silly, “of course she’s not a teenager.” She then pauses for a moment, before working it out who/what I am.
“She’s like a grown up, only she doesn’t have children.”
And there you have it.
On that note, I’ll add ‘a grown up’ to The-List-of-Nouns-that-I-Am-Not, as discussed in previous blog post, go downstairs to get my brownies out of the oven to take to a Baby Shower (check me out – I’m baking stuff!), and just keep pretending…