Growing up is hard to do

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.

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2 Comments on “Growing up is hard to do”

  1. Millicent says:

    As a fellow (near)-Ph.D who just turned 30, has a much-younger sister whose welfare has guided a lot of my decisions and nonadventures, whose dad got diagnosed with diabetes, and who prides herself on being scientifically minded, I wanted to just clink glasses with you on growing up. I had the same experience when my birthday hit: the adulthood, it is nigh. And strange, and maybe a little more solid. I feel steadier on my feet, but fantasy has taken a hit.

    I just found your blog via your fantastic post for Kate Harding on evolutionary psych (I’ve been obsessively reading old copies of the Eugenics Review and being astounded at the similarities between specious reasoning then and now). For what it’s worth, a piece of anecdata (your word, I’m stealing it): my dad had neuropathy for ten years. He couldn’t feel his feet, and the numbness was creeping up his shins. He is (no surprise) a doctor. When they figured it out, he lost a lot of weight, set himself up on a long-term version of the Atkins diet, aggressively keeps his glucose levels at 150 or less, and now, five years later, has totally recovered sensation in his feet. He is 78; not the age at which you’d expect microcirculation to bounce back.

    It’s been 10 years since I did anything adventuresome. I’ve been thinking about that too—that my postponing the fun stuff has become not temporary but a lifestyle. From one stranger on the internet to another: go on a trip.

    • Elysia says:

      Ha! Welcome, Millicent, and a clinked glass to you, indeed! The way I described my hope for my 30s with a friend who’s also new to the age was that we can settle down and be the people we’ve been working so hard to become. As you say: the adulthood, it is nigh. Which may or may not carry for you the weight it does for me, being so closely tied to the PhD – this is the first time I’m not a student since I was, what, five? Sort of a double-whammy. I will not ask about where you are in your program – I was never happy to answer that one – but will instead simply wish you success and as much joy in the work as is possible.

      I’m glad you liked my SP post! I know I learned the word anecdata from my time lurking there, although I couldn’t tell you from whom I took it. Anyways, about your dad: wow! Was it definitely microcirculation that was off, or was there some nerve signalling that could have been compromised? Either way, pretty amazing!

      postponing the fun stuff has become not temporary but a lifestyle

      Ain’t that the truth? And other, sometimes more subtle, aspects of life, too – for me, it really feels like planning for a future that isn’t arriving. I haven’t talked about it much here, partly because I don’t have a place to put the stories, but I actually am doing a lot of small trips and exploration of my “new” state of residence. So your advice is a message I’m happy to hear!


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