I was never quite sure when it would happen.
As a child, I always thought it would be the day I got married. At other times, I assumed it would be the first time I was intimate with a man.
But it wasn’t.
And it always changed as I got older.
At one time, I believed it would be when I got my first apartment. Then I absolutely knew that it would be the day I graduated from Army basic training.
Perhaps it would be when I accepted my first “real” job. Or the first time I made a decision based on what I needed rather than what I wanted. Maybe it would be the day that I signed the papers on my first house.
Not only did it keep changing, it became more and more elusive. The day eventually did arrive. It arrived without fanfare but I knew it when I saw it.
It was the day that my mother asked me to help her change the dressing on her breast cancer surgery incisions.
That was the day that I realized that I was a grown up.
There have been many times in my life when I’ve passed a milestone, when I’ve decided that the person I was yesterday had been a child, and that the person going into tomorrow would be an adult. Yet, each milestone was replaced by another, and another, making me wonder exactly when the innocence and dependence of childhood ended and the wisdom and confidence of adulthood took over. Making me wonder exactly when the music changed, when the bunny hop faded into a waltz.
That day in my mother’s bedroom, as I lifted the layers of gauze from her bare midriff, I saw my past and my future entwined. My past – a rebellious, inquisitive child – sat at my feet. My future – a poised, independent adult – stood by my shoulder. The child gazed up at her mother, admiring the strength and character of the woman who had guided her, loved her, and protected her. The adult gazed down at her mother, admiring the strength and character of the woman she planned to guide, love and protect.
The little girl of my past and the confident woman of my future touched fingers as I gently applied a fresh bandage to my mother’s body.
The child wept for her loss of innocence. The adult accepted her new responsibilities.
Yet no scepter was passed.
In that moment, I understood that there is no point when my childhood will end and my adulthood will begin.
In that moment, it was clear. It was clear that my past and my future will always dance together. It was clear that a child will always be behind the adult, urging her to play with one more puppy, and that an adult will always be present to remind the child not to spend her last few pennies on candy. It was clear that the child who trusts strangers will be protected by the adult who understands danger, and that the adult who mourns a death will be comforted by the child who understands nightmares.
And it was an encouraging thought. It was encouraging to know that I can still climb trees, and lie on the grass watching clouds take the shapes of animals, and stick my finger into the frosting on my brother’s birthday cake. It was encouraging to know that I can make my own money, and travel abroad alone, and forgive people who make me cry. It was encouraging to know that I don’t have to give up my past to attain my future. It was encouraging to know that there is a balance in everything.
The challenge comes in maintaining the balance, in keeping my past alive in my future and in reminding my future of my past. The challenge is to assign some wariness to the naiveté and to give some experience to an impulse.
But I like challenges and I think I have his one covered.
Just this week, I watched The Lion King while I balanced my checkbook, ate Oreo cookies with an expensive Porto, and wore my feetie pajamas while I did my taxes.
Maybe next week, I’ll share some caviar with my dogs.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.