816 North Opinion

How to ‘adult’ when you don’t think of yourself as an adult

You don’t have to be a parent to know that kids ask questions — a lot of questions. I began to steel myself for The Questions when I was pregnant for the first time and during that baby’s pre-talking years. I tried to remember what it was like to be a kid and have the entire universe not make sense.

The pre-thought got me through many a question and on-the-job training taught me the different levels of them.

NOVICE: The first level of questions are the easy ones, the ones you either already know the answers to or finding the answer is pretty simple.

Why is the sky blue?

Why do birds fly?

MIDDLING: These questions required more than simple answers. They may happen at any stage (over and over) and require age appropriate language.

Where is heaven?

Why didn’t I get invited to that birthday party?

What are those stick thingies you use in the bathroom, Mommy?

ADVANCED: These questions require preparedness or the kids WILL see you sweat. You don’t want to let them see you sweat.

Where do babies come from? How did my baby brother get in your tummy?

Did you party in high school?

Why can’t I call Aunt Sylvia malicious? You said it when you were on the phone with Grandma.

Some I had to wing, but once asked, I was ready for the next kid who had the same questions. (Which is why I can explain the female reproductive system in 30 well-worded seconds.)

Three kids, same questions. Boom! I was feeling a bit cocky about it, too, until 19-year-old Bekah asked me a question that I had no answer for:

How do I adult?

She was serious. At first I (naturally) beat myself up for not parenting her well enough that she would know this, or at least a vague version of it by now.

Then I remembered that at 19, I had no clue, either. My solution was to go away to college to avoid figuring out the answer for a few more years. Her solution was to ask me. That was good, right?

Grammar lesson about using nouns as verbs aside, I had no 30-second answer of few words strung together in an orderly fashion.

I turned to three other people: two who are a lot like Bekah, only (a little) further down the road, and one who has qualities I could see Bekah developing.

How did they adult? What should I tell her? I compiled their answers with my own:

Dear Bekah,

You adult a lot like you youthed, by being responsible. You make careful decisions and act in the best interest of you and those around you. You ask questions. You accept your failures and try your darnedest not to repeat them.

You will repeat some. Repeating them isn’t always bad.

When you adult enough to become a parent you convince your kids that being a grown-up is awesome fun and reinforce that with good adult behaviors.

Wanting to run away screaming, “Adulting stinks!” is perfectly normal adult behavior; doing it is not.

Before you get too far from it, never ever forget what made you a great kid: the joys of discovery without being jaded; the thrill of playing simply for the sake of playing; whatever it was that let you wear the multicolored and creatively matched outfit to school and feeling really good about it? Remember that. Do that.

Do what you must, then do what you like.

But mostly? Give the appearance of being an adult while holding tight and keeping the heart of a kid.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com