Stacey, a teacher’s aide at my elementary school, was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen in all my six years. She had wavy blond hair; a brilliant, beaming smile; and gentle green eyes. She was tall; she was kind. I remember thinking she looked like a princess. And one day, I told her so. “You look like Sleeping Beauty,” I declared on the playground during recess.
“Thank you,” she replied.
“Are you sixteen years old?” I asked, remembering that Sleeping Beauty was sixteen when she pricked her finger on the spindle.
“I’m twenty-six.” She smiled. “Does that sound old to you?”
“Yes,” I said, without hesitating.
For some reason, this moment has always stuck with me. As a first-grader, twenty-six did sound old. Twenty-six year olds, I figured, were married. They had kids. They drove cars. They went to work. They weren’t children, teenagers, or college students. Twenty-six year olds were grown-ups.
Now that I am twenty-six, I’m often surprised at how seldom I really do feel like a grown-up (or, at least, a first grader’s idea of a grown-up). More often than not, I feel like a kid playing at being an adult, trying on different hats the way a little girl plays dress-up.
This past Saturday, I helped a newly-single friend buy furniture for his brand-new bachelor pad. “The look I’m going for is ‘grown-up,’” he said, as we strolled the aisles of Ikea. “No more of this early-twenties dorm room business.’” And so we selected our idea of a grown-up couch, a grown-up bed, and a grown-up rug. We even picked out a grown-up shower curtain. Then, we went upstairs to the cafeteria and ate chocolate cake and macaroni and cheese til our stomachs hurt.
As it happens, I’ll be turning twenty-seven in just over a week. “How do you feel about getting older this year?” another friend asked recently.
“I feel okay,” came my less-than-confident answer. “I’m happy with where my life’s at, so I feel okay. But—twenty-seven sounds so old. I know it’s not, but I guess it’s just that . . .”
There was a pause.
“. . . I guess it’s just that I never thought I’d actually grow up.”
Now that I think of it, though, maybe I don’t have to. I’m nowhere close to being settled and I have no idea where I’m headed next—but I’m starting to think that that’s not such a bad thing. I may not be a grown-up, but I am growing.
Maybe that’s good enough.