(This post was written by my old college roommate and long-distance friend, Jennifer Gilmartin. She’s a patient, soft- spoken scholar and mother of two young kids. I asked her to write her own List, and she did me one better with this post. Honestly, she inspires me. Thanks, Jen.)
Another Monday. The day begins like any other. Momma’s baby-alarm wakes her at 5:30, and she staggers to the nursery in her pajamas. Lights on, sound machine off. Baby pushes himself into a sitting position and grins. “Ma-ma!”
She nods a hello. Her eyes are still adjusting to the light. She reaches over the rails to scoop the baby up. He all but leaps into her arms and squeals loudly.
“Shhhhh,” says Momma as they settle into the glider together. Baby gets his breakfast first because he was first to wake. Momma’s will be next, if she gets around to it before Big Sister’s green light comes on.
Big Sister awakes in a grumpy mood. Not even a bowl of oatmeal will cheer her up. Momma rushes around the kitchen, administering milk and cheerios and blueberries and oatmeal to a chorus of spoon banging and whining. The kettle hisses. At least there’s tea. If she’s lucky, she might get to finish a cup before lunchtime.
Breakfast is a whirlwind on the best of days. By the time it’s over, there is more food on the kitchen floor than in anybody’s stomach. And it stays on the floor. Because Momma has given up on sweeping. She used to beat herself up over this, back when Big Sister was the only baby, but at some point she had to stop caring so much. Someday, when she could take her eyes off of the kids without having to worry about anybody dying, she would buy a new broom and pick up where she left off with the housework.
The morning drags. They spend it in the basement. Momma turns the stereo on, props the door open to the screen room, then lies down on the floor and watches. To her left, the baby—newly up from his morning nap—prowls around on all fours, searching for stickers to eat. To her right, Big Sister pops in and out of the screen room with armloads of plastic fruit. “Hobbey and Baby Donna, they were having a picnic,” she informs Momma.
A small potty sits on a towel next to the door. “What do we do when we feel the pee pee coming?” Momma says, according to her script.
Big Sister’s voice chirps back, “We stop everything and run to the potty.”
It’s a hot day already. No clouds to block the sun. Momma closes her eyes. Through the stereo speakers, GT and the Halo Express are singing an upbeat song about perseverance. It’s a familiar song, one that resonates from her own childhood. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity…
She blinks away tears. Why does this feel so hard? Every day is the same: Busy. Exhausting. Boring. Is this really what life is supposed to look like? Am I the only one who hates it?
When she opens her eyes, Big Sister is sitting nonchalantly on the potty.
Then something happens.
Momma sits up. She has an idea.
The baby is rested. Big Sister has just gone potty. It’s a sunny day. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
“Sweetie,” she says, a little bit hesitantly, “would you like to go to the store?”
“You want to go to the story with Momma and Lockman?”
“And maybe—” Momma takes a deep breath. “Maybe after the grocery store, we can go to the library. Would you like to go to the library?”
Momma stands up. “All right, then—let’s go.”
Stereo off. Screen room door shut. Big Sister velcroes her sandals while Momma straps the baby into his car seat. Momma grabs the baby carrier and an extra diaper. And they go.
Just like that.
If I’m honest, most days I don’t feel like an adult. It’s like I blinked, and suddenly I’m no longer a teenager in high school, but a thirty-year-old married woman with a college degree and two small children and no clue what I’m supposed to be doing. I am a stay-at-home mom, which means that I’m in charge, whether I like it or not.
I’ve never liked being in charge.
I’m not very organized, nor am I good at prioritizing and planning. Life was so much easier when other people were around to tell me what needed to be done. From as early as I can remember, I dreaded growing up, for this reason: I didn’t want to be the one to set the agenda, to make the rules.
That’s what adults do. They make the rules. They set the agenda. They go places. They interact with other people. They get things done. They pack the two-year-old and nine-month-old into the car, and they do their grocery store run like it’s nothing.
It was a big deal for me to take both kids to the grocery store. The above scenario was the first time I had ever attempted it without my mom or mother-in-law along for assistance. It was the scariest, bravest, and—I felt—most grownup thing I’ve done in months. It was a very short outing—we only needed some oatmeal and a bag of carrots—but that made it the perfect test. Could I really take two small children out into the world—one of them potty training, the other still nursing—unassisted? What would I do if Big Sister had an epic tantrum or ran away from me in the parking lot? What would I do if the baby had a diaper blowout?
But we did it. We went to the grocery store. And it was completely uneventful. We even went further and stopped at the library. No tantrums. No blowouts.
It was small, but it felt like a breakthrough. For the first time, I felt like I just might be able to play this grownup game after all.
Because it’s not about how I feel.
I am so thankful to Lindsay for starting this blog. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who doesn’t feel like enough of an adult. But we’re not alone, Linds—apparently, there are many other adults (parents!) who struggle with this lack of confidence. I think that John Rosemond had us in mind when he wrote
“Parents cannot always know exactly what they are doing, so they must pretend to know. Parenting, in short, is an act, and good parents are good actors.”
You mean I just have to pretend?
Is that what everybody else has been doing?
My mind was blown. In an instant, everything made sense. And it was like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. Because, if I’m really honest, most of the time I have no clue what I’m doing. Most of the time, I feel like I’m missing something that everybody else has figured out. I don’t have what it takes to be the parent I need to be. I just don’t feel adult enough.
I lack the wisdom I need.
I lack confidence.
I lack patience.
I lack ambition.
I rely too much on Google and my mom, and not enough on common sense and my own instincts. Certainly not enough on God.
But those words by John Rosemond—bless his soul—stirred something in me. In that moment, I realized what my problem was:
I was too focused on my feelings.
I have been waiting for some milestone, some great experience, to validate me—to convince me that, yes, I really am a competent adult.
But, like love, it’s not about how I feel.
Being an adult, much like love, is a commitment to act in spite of my feelings. Like it or not—whether I “feel” it or not—I am an adult. I am thirty years old, I have a husband and two small children, and I have a job to do. Just like my mom and her mom and all the moms of history.
And in order to do my job, I have to get over myself.
I have to stop examining myself. Stop looking in the mirror to check my feelings. Now is the time to act like the adult I want to be, the adult I don’t yet feel like.
Because some days—most days—that really is the best I can do. When I lack confidence, when I feel like I want to crawl under the covers and go back to sleep (or call my mom in despair)—I have to stop myself. Stop. Pray. Think: “What would I do right now if I knew what I was doing?” Try out my own instincts. Take action—and do it decisively.
It’s going to feel awkward. Kind of like a five-year-old playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes. But the more I press on, the more I practice, the older I get—the more, perhaps, adulthood will fit me the way it fits her.
And so, with Lindsay’s encouragement, I have come up with my own List. These are things that, as an adult, I feel like I should be doing (or at least know how to do). And also some things that I just want to do. Also, some of these things—like the stuff about gardening—are going to have to wait until I’m out of the baby phase. But when the time is right, I will do them. I’m not going to wait until I feel ready.
Because if I keep waiting until I feel like an adult, I’ll never get anything done.
1. Make my own bread and soup, from scratch.
2. Who am I kidding? I want to learn to enjoy being in the kitchen.
3. I also want to care about gardening, because I just don’t. I never have. My front yard testifies to this.
4. Learn to cook with fire.
5. Fix simple stuff around the house. (My husband almost always does this before I even notice that anything is broken. So at the very least, I want to start noticing.)
6. Change a tire, if necessary. (I don’t actually want to do this, but it seems like a good thing to know.)
7. Be brave enough to on a vacation without my parents.
8. Be brave enough to take both kids to the grocery store by myself. (Check!)
9. Be more intentional about planning outings and playdates.
10. Have people over. Like, for dinner and tea and stuff.
11. Host a long-term guest, like an exchange student.
12. Come up with a better system for organizing cabinets, drawers, and closets.
13. Listen more. I want to be like the moms I admire, the ones I always go to with my questions, who are so patient and supportive. I want to be the kind of person that other people feel like they can come to for encouragement.
There it is. My grownup list, for what it’s worth. Thanks for the inspiration, Lindsay. Keep encouraging us with your thoughts! And may we all press on in this journey, keeping our eyes fixed ahead (not on ourselves), doing what we need to do in the moment, and trusting in God’s grace to cover us when we fail to be the adults we ought to be.
(You can read more of Jennifer’s grown-up insights and wisdom at her own blog…