The One With All The Adult Decisions

 Image credit: Dylan Spitz

Image credit: Dylan Spitz

I was in the back of an Uber pool when the mom and baby boy jumped in. He was maybe five years old, had on a neon green jacket and sandwiched himself between me and his mom.

He smiled at me. I smiled at him and said good morning.

He was still missing some teeth and with joy that only a baby boy can feel at 8am, he turned to his mom and said, “She said good morning!” 

“She did,” his mom replied with a grin. “Not many people do.” 

(Welcome to New York, the land of Uber Pool riders who feel they’re above being well-mannered.)

The baby boy gave me a look, a smile, and a reminder that I like who I am, when he said, “Yeah, but she did.”

***

Every step I’ve taken into 25 has brought me closer to adulthood in ways that I didn’t anticipate. The night before, I thought I’d broken my own heart to set myself free. The feared brokenness that was supposed to come never arrived though. I was sitting in too much self-respect. 

This morning, the Uber Pool was taking me to a clinic waiting room where I would sit and wait to have someone look at my left breast. What would come from that one decision to be looked at was layered in unknowns and text messages that hadn’t stopped trickling into my cell phone since 7am that morning. 

The future was at the end of this Uber Pool ride, but while in it, I was committed to my present and how I’d created it. I’d driven down this same road only months ago and the person who had shown up then was a much younger version of who I am now. Feeling older? It’s a relief. The girl then, she reached. She was a little less anchored, a lot less happy, a bit more doubtful of who she’d be months from then. 

Still, she showed up. The present moment is a direct result of her decision to stay the less traversed course. To her I’m indebted because she knew that hiding, burying your head in the sand, in the screams of the crowd, in the ‘yes’ people and superficial hanger ons, they always lead to the same outcome —the inability to look at yourself in the mirror after you’re done washing your hands of the day you left behind. 

She pushed me into adulthood by not letting me sit in unhappiness of my own doing.

Being in your twenties does not an adult make, but having values, purpose, integrity, they seem to be good places to start. It’s more about good choices than it is about fun circumstances. It’s as deliberate as choosing to show up for someone who needs you when you already had somewhere else to be. It’s walking into therapy when the behavior is unhealthy, the cycles don’t stop and you keep hurting and disappointing those who love you most. It’s walking out of the club when you find yourself calling it home. 

It’s standing next to glass doors with a promised clear view of what and who you’ll be leaving on the other end, and still deciding to walk through them. Because “we don’t do that in my life” is always enough of a reason to go. 

***

I look out the window, New Jersey is to my left, the rest of my life is before me. This season I honed in on the truths that would guide me through the next part. I learned that before I am anyone else’s, I am my own. Days of being hurt, weeks of pulsing pain, months of confusion, they led me to the only moment that mattered — the one where all the text messages to my friends looked exactly the same — “I did it because I love myself.” 

Because you don’t find legacy in Instagram comments, or the way the bass of the DJ platform vibrates against your leg. You find it in people, in substance. I’ll find it in letters written to my future daughter about that time the idea of her helped me choose better, even if better meant more time before she came along. 

The West Side highway moved outside the window and in my mind was the truth that it's the risk we always take when we decide to show up for ourselves as passionately as we show up for others — we may come face to face with how we’ve been selling ourselves short. The gap between what we need and what we’re getting, it can only be bridged by our own awareness. A friend said, “scared is how you’re feeling, brave is what you’re doing.”

The discomfort of knowing how we’ve been settling, it was painted in red on my skin every time I stood naked before mirrors, or bared myself fully to friends who had to carry versions of me they had never seen. But it felt brave. It felt like my reckoning was slow dancing with my reaping and together they helped rebuild my self-worth.

For too long I thought growing into an adult was nothing more than fancy dinners, in low lit restaurants, and a candle on a soufflé, that marked another year. It isn't. It needs to be deliberate. It’s honing common sense, empathy, self-awareness like the skills they are. It’s choosing real over simple. Again. Again. Again. 

Growing up happens in the trenches. 

Hit a rough patch in your relationship. Are you fight or flight? 

Live a humbling moment all the way through. Ask it if it cares that your Instagram followers' count has a “k” at the end of it. Talk to it about how many zeroes are in your bank account and how many miles you’re the proud owner of. Let it know that your phone has a slew of numbers, a number of flirty texts, and an inbox with coveted email addresses. Sing it songs of your accolades, the number of achievements that have your fingerprints all over them, the magic fingers that have helped you design your own reality, with your own version of the truth, when the real one no longer serves you. Run out of breath explaining to it just how respected you are, then pause, look around, are you really? 

As I sat in a waiting room to start the journey of figuring out if the lump was benign or cancerous, I can tell you that the moment could care less about how many guys had fallen to their knees for me, how many essays I had written, or how much my J.Crew coat had cost. 

The moment begged for humility so I offered it what I knew I would always have with me, so long as my becoming was never my undoing…the unconditional love that was felt for me. I had a family member sitting next to me. I had friends who were praying to higher powers they were familiar with, friends praying to entities they hadn’t spoken to in years, just for me. I had my inner strength. 

Suddenly, I’d left my young adulthood behind.