A terrible thought occurred to me today as I was sitting on a bench at the park reading 1000 Gifts.
I might actually have grown up. It’s a very disturbing thought.
I remember one day in my childhood distinctly when I was sitting on the porch and my mom came around the side of the house. Instead of climbing over the side of the porch – so much faster!—she went all the way around to the steps and climbed up the steps to get to the top of the porch. I remember wondering in my 11 year old mind if I would ever get to that point where instead of just climbing up the side of the porch, I would take the steps instead.
And I never thought I would reach that point.
I was the sort of child that mothers despair over. When I was younger, I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to wear pants, I wanted to train horses, I wanted to go fishing with my brother when my uncle took him, I wanted to drive the tractor at the same age my brother did, I wanted to do all sorts of things that were not quite kosher in our conservative circles. So I made do. Actually, as far as being able to do things boys normally did, I was really privileged. I wore sweat pants under my skirts as I tore down the road on my copper colored pony, Penny. I went on long walks by myself or with my younger sister, exploring every inch of our unromantic and boring farm and in my mind’s eye, converted every unromantic part of the farm in a fairy nook, or a an exciting Indian realm. I milked just as many cows as any male on the farm did, and gave shots to calves, and waded through mud carrying a newborn calves, and nearly froze my toes hunting in the dead of winter. I loved basketball and baseball and followed the Kansas City Royals avidly with my brother and pitched tennis balls to him overhand so we could re-enact our beloved team.
And my mother despaired. I didn’t want to learn how to quilt. I didn’t want to play with dolls (or so I said.) I wanted to wear the same red dress every day. I didn’t care if my hair was wild and sloppy. I didn’t care if the dress I was wearing had a gaping hole in it. I didn’t care if I was reading a book on my back on the floor with my legs in the air. I didn’t care if my room was an absolute pigsty. Neither did I want to hear one word of growing up and getting married and “settling down.” Yet, even though I am sure my mother sometimes felt very impatient with me, she never pushed me much to become more ladylike.
But slowly, as I grew older, I began to change and see the beauty that there is in being a woman. Not that I still don’t love a wild gallop down a dirt road at dusk, or the challenge of getting a calf to drink a bottle for the first time. Granted there also are things that women cannot or should not do, but I still love doing the things that I did 15 years ago, only with more dignity.
But today as I sat in the park, thinking about my work, teaching 3 and 4 year old Thai children, as well as the Little Girl Who Lives With Us, and I realized that maybe I had GROWN UP. That terrible word that I vowed I would never be.
I no longer think that rolling around on the floor in undignified positions for no reason at all is necessary. Nor do I think that incessant giggling and silliness and walking into walls on purpose when you are supposed to be walking in a line are needed. I tell little people to behave themselves every day and wish, wish, wish that they would just grow up a little bit. But do I really want them to grow up? What really does growing up mean? I wish someone would tell me. Does it mean becoming staid and practical and bossy and sensible and climbing the stairs instead jumping over the side? Does it mean never doing things that would shock other people or rock the boat? Does it mean becoming mature and thoughtful and wise like a guru on a mountain? Or does it mean being organized and neat and on time and never getting into awkward scrapes? If it’s the latter, than I have most definitely not grown up.
In working with children every day, sometimes I feel so old, because I am always the one giving commands and being the good example. I can’t do un-grown up things because if I do them, then guess what?! A troupe of 12 others would probably follow suit. So I don’t do un-grown-uppish things and it makes me feel old indeed. There are days when I get this inexplicable urge to jump out of the office window into the padded play area below. Or hide under my desk in the middle of the day. Or try to squeeze through the bathroom window which is about 2×3 feet in circumference just to see if I could. It would be so easy. And so fun. And so un-grown up.
Maybe, on second thought, I haven’t grown up after all. Or maybe I have, and being grown up means knowing when jumping out of windows and sitting under desks are appropriate – and when they’re not.