Every day of my life, I get up and fake being an adult.
I used to hate people saying that, because I would picture this freely gambolling, playful child, hiding inside a bill-paying, mortgage-arranging body. Like they got to escape all the boring stuff and internally have a swing and a nice long go on the roundabout.
Maybe some people are like that. Me though, I feel like I landed in adult land, like a displaced Mr Man character, and have to play the role in case I get kicked out of the game.
It didn’t start when I had children. It started when I got a dog, which was purely to practice for the children. I figured if I could keep something with four legs alive and healthy, perhaps I could graduate to human beings at some point.
And I tried really hard. I was in my late twenties and intensely, fiercely unmaternal, but I really wanted to do the right things. I even went and did a three day dog grooming class so that I could coif my little pound poodle.
“What on EARTH is the matter?” demanded my husband, when he found me clutching my half bald dog, both of us howling miserably.
Through sobs I explained that I had accidentally zigged when I should have zagged with the clippers and caused a cut in rather delicate area. How, I demanded, was I ever meant to have children when I couldn’t even get this right?
“Well, here’s an idea,” he comforted me. “How about when we have a child, you just steer clear of trying to clip his anus?”
That did help a bit. I’ve never unsuccessfully clipped one of my children, though my now ex did recently give my son a haircut that made him look like a hillbilly freshly flicked out of a kerosene bath. Maybe I should have let him do the poodle? And my kids are fed, and clothed, and know the meaning of please and thank you. I’m not an entirely disastrous parent, most of the time.
But I’ve never quite shaken the idea that the world is full of adultier adults, who have access to the rulebook. Sure, they might roll their eyes and tell amusing little stories of how chaotic their lives are. But I know the truth. They’re doing all the adult things, choosing houses and planning meals and holding dinner parties and covering their children’s books with contact paper. And there’s no part of them waiting for a REAL grown-up to come over and tell them, in an indulgent voice, to put down that nasty electricity bill, stop playing at that full time job, cease messing with this sole responsibility for two humans stuff. Leave it alone now, you’ll have someone’s eye out. Go and sit in your treehouse and read a nice book.
I wait and wait for the mythical adultier adult to notice I’m faking and take the reins back, effortlessly getting it right. But I’m nearly forty now, and I’m starting to lose a little faith in the concept. Could it be possible that everyone is faking? That we all watch each other out of the corners of our eyes, like we’re trying to work out the cutlery at some fancy-pants restaurant?
Are we all copying each other being adults?
And does anyone want to join me on the swings?