It’s Thursday. Thursdays have long been my favorite day of the workweek. When L. was smaller, Thursdays were his long day at school but my work-from-home day, which meant a day I could do as much writing as I could and still have time for grading/planning, a load of laundry, a trip to the store. And then, it was Friday. Now that I’ve gone full-time at work, I teach on Thursdays, but not until 3:30, which means I still have a nice long day before I have to get on Bart and go into San Francisco. I mean, look—it’s only twenty past nine, and already I’ve tidied my desk, made the bed, done a load of laundry, and checked my email.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be an adult. The days peel off the calendar, and then it’s Thursday again, and some Thursdays, faced with all this time, I feel at loose ends. All week I look forward to having time to write–but then, on Thursday mornings, what I really want to do is tidy my very messy house and make sense of everything that’s been piling up all week. This, it occurs to me, is both totally mundane and totally what being an adult is all about. Balancing all these pieces–lunch boxes, laundry, clean bathrooms, messy desks, student papers, agent letters, bills to be paid, things to be mailed, gardens to be watered, dinners to be prepped, food to be shopped for, garbage cans to put out, novels to be pondered, soccer uniforms to be located, emails to be sent, tea to be drunk, lost items to be located–is this really what it’s all about?
In class this week, I had my students read the first chapter of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, where she lays out her year-long experiment to become more happy. I’d been resisting sharing it with my students since I worried they would all declare her an old lady, and boring, and while a few of them did just think she was having a “midlife crisis,” many of them found the reading really compelling. We talked about how sometimes you’re just rolling along in life and you forget to work hard and appreciate what you have and that that is true for everyone, at every age. I liked hearing from students in their twenties that they also contend with this feeling, because I’d worried, a bit, that it was just me.
I’ve realized that for the past four years, M and I have had this very strong diversion in our lives. Coloring everything–L’s milestones, our work, our marriage—has been this persistent drive to get me pregnant. In some ways, it’s been the hardest four years of my life. And in others, it’s been a project that has diverted us from everything real, and from the mundanity of adulthood. Last week, that project ended. We learned that our second frozen embryo transfer was not successful, and the dream of me ever being pregnant again went poof.
Of course miracles happen. Of course it’s not a definite. But I have to think of it that way in order to make it real, because hope hasn’t gotten me very far on this journey.
And so it’s been a week of adult-style reality. The reality is a nice one: I have a beautiful five-year old kid, a husband I genuinely want to be with. We have enough money (yay!), we have a loving family. We have, knock wood, our health and our happiness. But this is also it, this life of lunch boxes and lost sweatshirts, of work and taking out the trash and food prep. For many years, we have tried to add a piece of joy and chaos to this life of ours—a baby—and it hasn’t worked. It’s devastating, and it’s sobering, and it’s confusing, and it’s unreal, and mostly, it’s just a deep and central sadness that I suspect will be with us for a long time. And on the other hand, it feels like it’s just our path. It’s what was supposed to happen, it’s what we have to sit with, it’s our dukkha. It’s our adulthood.
In that first chapter of The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin lays out her Twelve Commandments (the first one: “Be Gretchen.” I like that). Then, her Secrets of Adulthood, which includes gems like “If you can’t find something, clean up” and “Turning the computer off and on a few times often fixes glitches.” After we read, I had my students write either their own Secrets of Adulthood or their own Commandments. I loved how into it they got. One eccentric student who always comes to class in a suit and tie wrote “Dress for Success” and “Don’t Boast”; another, “Eat Happier.” One student’s list consisted of items like “Don’t smoke so much,” “Don’t drink ’til you black out,” and “Don’t eat out every night.”
And me? I wrote my own Secrets of Adulthood. It felt like a really happy moment in an otherwise sad time. I can’t exactly say why. I think because I remembered for a second that despite a large disappointment, I am still me. Me, who has lived on this earth for 40+ years and has gathered some basic wisdom. Me, who knows herself. Sometimes a tragedy or a loss can really shake your core. It’s good to remember who you are in those moments, that you still need a cup of tea first thing and a snack in your purse at all times.
My Secrets of Adulthood
It all has to get done.
Putting things away when you’re done with them saves time later.
It’s okay to go out to dinner occasionally.
Don’t check email after ten p.m.
A cup of tea first thing.
Exercise saves all.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
No cell phone at dinner.
It’s worth it to instill good table manners in your kid.
Back up your data regularly.
If you can’t find something, clean up.*
If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.*
Don’t shy away from difficult conversations.
Be honest—but not too honest.
A little TV will not kill you.
Bring a snack.
Enjoy each other.
Guilt is the enemy of the good.
*Thank you, Gretchen Rubin