Growing up is hard to doPosted: June 22, 2010
I’ve started half a dozen blog posts recently that have gone…nowhere. It’s been startlingly difficult to translate the overflowing thoughts and emotions that keep me up at night into words that make sense to read. And I’m so keyed up over so many different things that the topics are all running together and making a mess, leaving me with a knot of stuff that could be pretty and worth sharing if only I could get it all straight…like when my necklaces get tangled up. Here’s the thing: I turn 30 this week. Which seems quite simple and not at all problematic, although the drama lies, as is so often the case, in the details.
Being 30 to me means being a grown-up. Now that I’ve got my PhD, I’m no longer a student, but I’m also not entirely independent. I liken being a postdoc to being a journeyman, using the language of skilled craftsmen: I’ve learned enough to go out and try things on my own, but I’m still under supervision and get help when I need it. Which is honestly where I want to be right now in my life. Sometimes I tell myself, whether it’s true or not, that I’ve been aware of what grown-up responsibilities are like for so long that I’m now unwilling to take them on, and that some of them I’m tired of before actually truly experiencing them. It’s kind of nice to be in a position where I can mentor students and write grants and yet not have to teach full courses or train grad students, where I can ease into responsibility.
Because it’s coming, the time when I get to take on more responsibility than I had ever imagined as a five year old playing with Barbies or Legos, dreaming of college and boyfriends, space travel and driving cars and high heels. Because this year? This year I am 30, an age I once associated with jokes of being “over the hill,” and this year, my dad was diagnosed with diabetes.
I am feeling pushed up against my fear of death and loss and what it means to be responsible for Lily and to need to care for my parents while I do that. Look, I know that life isn’t fair and we all age and that physically, aging’s an inelegant process. But this year, and this month, I’m struggling with the knowledge that my dad’s health is really starting to be affected by his age. Learning about his diabetes shouldn’t be a big deal, but it really, truly is for my family: aside from the fact that now all four of us have long-term conditions to manage, it places a serious new pressure on my mom, who runs the kitchen and all things food-related. And it’s not like she hasn’t been working to accomodate her own dietary needs and those of my sister for years and years. (Was Lily allergic to strawberries? ) So I’m upset that there’s something else that could, you know, exacerbate Mom’s health issue, and that will be just one more thing to juggle.
It’s even more of an emotional shock to my system because my dad’s always been the healthy and strong one in the family. He caught multiple colds in the first half of this year, which is unprecedented (in my memory, at least) and got him talking about his own mortality. Which only served to rattle me, of course, so the diabetes news…well, I know I didn’t cope especially well. “I’m getting old,” he says. “So am I,” I think.
On top of this, my sister’s supremely aggravating and yet super important challenges of authority and other forays into independence are taking their toll on both of my parents, too. I’m furious with her, and I can’t express that, because, well, she isn’t doing it on purpose. She has no idea that her temper tantrums or coy manipulations that aren’t nearly as coy as she hopes have unfortunate consequences for my parents. What good does it do me to be mad at her for that? To be mad that I won’t ever have her help in caring for them? And yet I am. My scientific training in logic and rational analysis only goes so far when it comes to the way I interact with my family, and thank goodness for that: I would rather feel too much than feel too little. But I know we’re all just sort of stuck here, forced by the strength of our affection for each other to deal with a really shitty situation.
I am beginning to suspect that growing up with Lily has altered my perception of time. Sure, I have felt a deep drive to “live for the day” or whatever, to be spontaneous and unworried and Just Go Do Stuff. (Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?) But I also, at the same time, can’t help but think about how what I do today will affect me tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, next decade. The uncertainty of Lily’s seizures combined with my sense of responsibility for her at a young age mean that I am much more likely to plan and wait and be cautious than not. And now? I’m 30, and flirting with regrets for adventures I haven’t lived. You know, while more aware than ever that things will fall apart even if I do everything right, which makes me want to cling to safety so that I can salvage what steadiness I can.
So, yeah: not really thrilled to be hitting an age that’s a milestone of Real Adulthood in American culture. Happily, I am surrounded by friends who understand what I’m going through and are able to remind me that there can be joy in the middle of the messiness that is life.