vignettes on being a ‘grown-up’

Here I am when I was about six or something:

Life was simple. It involved a lot of fairy crowns and tie-dye and sort of learning how to play the dulcimer. It included my mom pulling loaves of sweet-smelling bread out of the oven, and reading aloud to my little brother on the futon, and drawing pictures with my dad. I did not wear shoes very often, or brush my hair. (These things, still true.)

I’m 28 now. I bet you, like me, feel a lot less wise than you thought you’d be by your age. I bet you, like me, sometimes wish you spend your days running barefoot in clumps of violet leaves, with a small cozy home smelling of bread to come inside in the evening, and no to-do list anywhere in your mind.

In no particular order, a few things that have happened to me lately. I am technically a grown-up. Growing up. And it doesn’t ever look quite the same as you expect it will, when you’re barefoot and fairy crowned and diving into a loaf of fresh bread.

making decisions at home depot

I had to stop at Home Depot a few weeks ago to purchase supplies for a lettuce-planting activity I was going to do with small kids and their families at the Zoo. It was early on a Saturday morning, I’d only had a few sips of coffee, and I stood in front of a selection of soil mixes feeling absolutely befuddled. Should I get an actual potting soil, or a seed starting mix? What if the families never transplanted the lettuces of the starting container? What if they did? I kept picking up bags and setting them back down.

“You look like you could use some help,”someone said. There was an elderly man approaching, smiling broadly, leaning forward onto his cart’s handle with his wrinkled forearms.

“Oh, I could!” I said, gratefully. “Do you know much about growing lettuces in containers indoors?”

“Well, I could give you some pointers,” he said, in a comforting old-Minnesota-man voice, and he set me straight (we went for the seed starting mix, if you’re interested), and gave me some great advice for indoor gardening. I told him I worked at the Zoo and he told me a few stories about going there with his grandkids (“they’re getting too old now,” he said.) We chatted for a few more minutes, and then he waved a hand and prepared to roll his cart away, still smiling.

“Thank you again,” I said. “I so appreciate your help and advice.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” he said. “You know, I never pass up the chance to be a grandpa.” And he waved as he headed out through the sliding glass doors.

He never passes up the chance to be a grandpa. That sentiment – and the fact that I got to be the beneficiary of it, for ten minutes in the garden department of Home Depot – left me feeling warm and cared for all the way through my seed selection, the check-out line, and the drive to the Zoo. In fact, the memory of it still brings that feeling back. I am far away from my family, here in Minnesota, and sometimes you just need a grandpa. I’m so grateful that man decided to be mine for a moment.

breakdown

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I bought a Subaru Outback with a manual transmission a few months ago. You know that learning how to drive a stick shift was a learning process, but that I gradually became more comfortable with it.

Last Thursday, at the end of my drive home from work – just two blocks from my house – I noticed a sudden dank smell, and white-gray smoke from the front of the car. Every time I pressed on the clutch pedal, there was a painfully loud squealing noise. I’d already had a bad day, and I wasn’t feeling well, so I behaved like a true grown-up: went inside, laid down on the dusty hardwood floor, and cried.

The next morning I took it to my trusty local shop. On the two-mile drive there, the squealing sounds and smell got worse, and the pedal started to vibrate under my foot. Their call, later that afternoon, did not come as a surprise – the clutch was done. Its throw-out bearing, Brian said over the phone, was “Chernobyl’d.” This is not a term you want to hear from your repairman.

They fixed everything and I got my car back yesterday evening with a brand-new clutch, and I have the insanely high receipt to prove it. My parents were there for me, as were my brother and my boyfriend, and they all reassured my trust in my gorgeous and very strong safety net that I am so lucky to have. But I can’t shake this feeling – of something like dread. From the moment the smoke billowed back to my open windows, I’ve been feeling this deep sense of…a lack of safety, I guess. Of fear. Of being at risk and hopelessly exposed.

Part of it is that I’m deeply afraid that it was my driving that destroyed the clutch, and that I’ll just do it all over again. As far as I can tell, I’m not doing any of the things I’ve been cautioned not to do, and I’ve driven with people who assure me I’m doing just fine, but it seems like there must be some subtle thing that I don’t even know I don’t know about. The only thing worse than having something terrible befall you, is having something terrible befall you – and suspecting it’s your own fault.

And part of it, is that my car breaking down reminds me that the things I count on can change or vanish without warning. My car is mine, is a temporary home and sanctuary, is something I expect and depend upon to keep me safe. And at any moment, it can go from driving smoothly and normally, to squealing and smoking and betraying me utterly. It’s a horrible reminder that it’s not just cars that can happen to – that everything in life is subject to change, that everything and everyone we depend upon is always subject to the random tragedies of the universe.

I drove my car to work again today and felt my stomach clenched in worry the entire time. If I shifted gears and it didn’t feel perfectly smooth, my stomach jolted in fear. The inner workings of my clutch are a dark mystery to me, and I suddenly feel like I have no idea how to ensure their safety. I just have to take deep breaths and focus on the things I can control – and remind myself how lucky I really am. At the end of the day, it’s just a car.

 

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