Must be so nice, I thought, snug under my yellow Holly Hobby coverlet, my golden ringlets piled on the pillowcase. It was night and my mother had just left my room…again…after scolding me for something, which probably involved me hollering incessant questions to her while I was supposed to be falling asleep.
I do wrong things all the time, I lamented. Grown-ups never do anything wrong! I can’t wait to grow up so I won’t make mistakes anymore!
Ah, sweet innocence!
Parenting, she’s not easy. I’d been a middle school and high school teacher, so I never held any happy-go-lucky illusions of motherhood. Babies would be hard. Toddlers and preschoolers would be doubly hard. School-age kids might hold a little reprieve. Preteens and teenagers would be maddeningly hard. But when I came across this photo the other day, its truth reminded me again of how “hard” doesn’t even begin to capture all that is parenthood…
And it’s not just parenthood that’s leaves me with a perpetual string of “What am I doing?” questions around every corner. Parenthood is but one area of perpetual uncertainty. It’s life, really. Many facets, if I’m being perfectly honest, like…
|| managing the money (for now and for the future–um, hello, I have no clue how much to budget for food for February, let alone how much to budget for future food purchased during SEVERAL DECADES of retirement!)
|| choosing the right dietary balance so we don’t all wind up obese or with cancer or an autoimmune disease. Have you seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead???
|| being married–don’t get me wrong. I love my husband with my whole heart and he makes every facet of my life better. But living with, loving, and baring my soul to another human is freaking hard sometimes, and it has refined me like nobody’s business.
|| what kind of career to pursue–when am I ever going to figure out what I want to be when I grow up?
|| watching coverage of tragedies and things like the Syrian refugees, the children in particular, whose unspeakable tortures I can’t even begin to fathom, and who I have no clue how to help
Yes, for sure it’s not just this parenting gig that leaves me questioning. The little girl inside me is still waiting for the day when I finally feel like a grown-up, ready to stop making mistakes and know for sure what I’m supposed to do. At this point, I’m guessing that’s not going to happen?
I turn 39 last week, and (if you’re good at math like me) 😉 this means 40 is just around the corner. I’ve probably reached the half-ish of my life! And while it has been terribly good, there are still surprises, especially where my emotions are concerned. Most surprising, I don’t feel grown-up. I don’t feel less uncertain or less timid. I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.
Really, I just feel more tender.
In fact, with each passing year, as the tenderness has grown, I worried–am I getting this adult thing all wrong? Why don’t I know what happens next? Why do the world’s problems seem bigger, more encompassing? Why do questions seem more innumerable, the answers more elusive? Why does it hurt more when I see my children struggle with something as they grow up? Why is it not just sad, but paralyzingly sad, to watch the news and see the suffering and the war and the refugees? Why am I not growing used to loss and death, instead finding that each time someone passes, the holes they’re leaving seem bigger?
A few months ago, it dawned on me that maybe this burgeoning tenderness wasn’t so much a sign that I was getting things wrong but a sign that I was really growing up. Maybe growing up didn’t look in reality like my childish eyes expected. Maybe I’d been seeking the wrong certainty all along.
Maybe tenderness means learning to lean into uncertainty, not because you know the answers will magically appear but because it’s the only true and worthwhile thing to do. Maybe tenderness means learning to grieve well because you trust that by loosening your grip on the temporal you open your hearts to the transcendent. Maybe tenderness means feeling the thorns but keeping your eyes open because you know beside the thorns come rosebuds and beauty. Maybe tenderness means making a lot of mistakes and being okay with that because mistakes mean you showed up and really lived.
Maybe tenderness, in fact, is the secret of growing up.
I don’t know if I’m right or not. I figure it has taken me 40 years to come to this realization. Give me another 40 to figure out if I’m right, and I’ll let you know. Maybe by then I’ll have figured it all out. Or at least know what I want to be when I grow up? 😉