I am thirty three years old, and a mother. The lady in the local boulangerie stopped calling me “Mademoiselle” quite some time ago.
Why is it then that most of the time I feel like I’m only pretending to be a grown up? Putting on a front. Going through the motions of what seems to be expected of someone my age, unsure whether my heart is really in what I’m doing. From the vantage point of childhood, grown ups seemed so different, so complete, so together. The phrase “one day, when you are grown up…” held such tantalising promise.
But here I am, with three decades already behind me, and I’m not quite sure I belong here. Underneath the play acting, there is a girl who often wonders why adulthood doesn’t feel like she thought it would.
I ceased to grow upwards at the ripe old age of eleven, when I watched, in helpless despair, as the other girls in my class at school overtook me. That same year, I became a woman in the childbearing (as a theoretical possibility) sense, prompting my mother’s gift of a rather chaste paperback about love and sex, with a cover photograph of a young man (German porn star moustache) and woman (flicked back Abba fringe) perpetually trapped in the late Seventies, unaware that oral sex existed.
My first physical relationship, at seventeen, was a landmark, but I wouldn’t describe it as a coming of age. I look back fondly at the young girl I was at the time, enthusiastic about the new pastime I had discovered, and fiercely possessive of my boyfriend in the manner of a small child with an exciting new toy.
I took control of my life and finances when I left home for university, aged nineteen, but I wasn’t yet a fully formed person. More a mass of contradictions: obsessed with grades, ferociously competitive, but also a thrill seeker who spared little thought for her own personal safety. It was a time for exploration, for defining my own boundaries away from the constraints of the parental home.
Somewhere in my twenties, I think I started to grow into my own personality. There was the slow, painful realisation of the fact that being top of the class at school does not automatically equip a person for a brilliant future, if that person has no particular ambition in life. Dreams were diluted with a dose of pragmatism; sacrifices were made in order to remain in the country I decided to call my home.
In my first “proper” job, once the elation at finally having money had abated, and I tired of spending every single Saturday afternoon on a spending spree, “adult” concerns started to insinuate themselves into my brain. Peers were buying flats and houses. Suddenly, amassing savings and acquiring property became a major obsession. Panic: was I missing the boat? Saturdays were a whirlwind of estate agent’s, apartment visits and mounting frustration.
Friends began to marry. I wondered whether that was something I wanted, or felt I should want. Practical reasons aside, I found myself incapable of answering this question. Somewhere along the line, I seemed to have mislaid my romantic, girlish fantasy involving a princess dress, possibly because circumstances dictated that I would be footing the bill. Mr Frog and I had moved in together out of sheer pragmatism, not as a result of some conscious decision to take things to another, more serious level.
We dithered, disagreed, and never made it as far as marriage, but the decision to try for a baby was a conscious one, not taken lightly, even though we could not help, once more, but be influenced by our circle of friends, many of whom were embarking on the same adventure at that time.
I suppose I thought that as an adult I would feel more certainty. Know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I wanted certain things out of life. Not just allow myself to be swept along like driftwood, falling into step with everyone else, mixing my metaphors, unsure of my destination.
After all the changes that 2005 wrought on my life (and Tadpole’s, and Mr Frog’s), I have clearer plans for the future than ever before. I dream of moving to the country with my Lover, renovating a house, learning to drive again. The possibility of having another child. I’m almost certain that these are the things my heart desires. But sometimes I am still haunted by the feeling that I am just a child pretending to be a grown up, yearning to play in a Wendy house, with new toys, a new doll.
Cooking lunch for my Lover on Boxing Day, I couldn’t chase away a mental image of my daughter playing with her toy cooker, with its (pink) plastic pans. Watching myself at play, pretending to cook dinner like a grown up; like my own mother.
Does being a grown up just mean playing an extended game of mummies and daddies, with bigger toys, and real genitalia?