Occasionally, I pick up date night babysitting gigs to fill the gaps between nannying paychecks. Truthfully, there are a lot of gaps and I’m spinning my wheels to get them filled more often than not, but that’s another topic for another time.
Last Friday night, I had a job with a family I’ve worked for sporadically for the past 18 months. They have a lovely, mellow little girl who recently turned three years old. I usually put her to bed between 7:30 and 8 and have at least an hour and a half to relax, watch Netflix or read my book while I sip kombucha in peace and quiet before her parents return. During this time I am myself, comfortable in my cocoon of solidarity; I am free to be the person it’s really hard to be when I think other people are watching.
I’m typically flirting with disaster during these encounters because I don’t know the parents well enough to be okay with them knowing that I’m really making myself at home. They also don’t text or call to let me know when they’re on their way home, as many of my other families do. I’ve assessed the risk and found that the payout of having some very high quality self-care time (while I’m being paid, no less) usually outweighs the awkwardness of being caught off guard in my jordan-ness.
I had put the tiny human to bed around 7:30 and like clockwork, she was out by 7:45. My ritual commenced – I pulled their jumbo ottoman up so it was positioned as a perfect squishy footrest for my very short legs. I adjusted the air conditioning to my liking and plugged my computer in while I watched an episode of something silly and mindless on Netflix. I enjoyed the dinner I had prepped earlier in the evening, slouched into their sofa like I owned the place… and then I heard the garage door.
My heart soared out of my chest and I sprung from the couch like I had been electrically shocked, nearly choking on my delightful little salad. I sprinted around their beautiful hardwood floors in my socks, Bambi on ice skates, and turned the temperature back up to a warm 78 with frantic clicks on the touchscreen thermostat. I unplugged my electronics and rushed my dish to the kitchen, gave it a two second half assed rinse and shoved it in the dishwasher. I slid the ottoman back to its original home and pulled a book from my bag, tearing it open to a random page just in time to see the couple walk through the door from the garage and gave them my cheeriest fake: “Hiiiii, how was your evening?!” voice. My heart rate returned to normal, we made awkward small talk while the wife wrote me a check for my time, and I scampered out the door as quickly as humanly possible.
Then I laughed the whole way home.
There was something so specific about this experience “babysitting” that made those weird uncontrollable, bubbly chuckles sneak out of me. Those twenty seconds were a perfect metaphor for exactly where I am in my life. They’re precisely what pretending to be an adult feels like for me. I’m struggling to get comfortable, trying to be myself in a weird role that’s traditionally filled by pre-teens for a few extra bucks. Then, in the blink of an eye, just when I think everything is okay and maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to figure out how to pay my electric bill, get my smog checked, return library books, be a decent human being, find my passions, explore my interests, remember to put gas in the car, take out the recyclables, buy groceries AND wear pants on the same day, life walks in unexpectedly, reminding me of this weird couch/ottoman space I’m filling. My heart is racing and I am trying to play it cool, but let me be clear about this: I AM NOT COOL. In fact, I am quite a hot mess and announcing that is my new favorite hobby. Want to know why? I theorize that most people have this totally misconstrued perception of how “together and adult” the rest of the world is and it makes everybody involved feel just a little bit better to know that they’re not alone. As uncool as it is, I think it’s an act of radical love to ourselves and to those we’re sharing with to admit when we’re feeling weird and scared and like we’re going to be stuck here forever.
My best guess is : we are and we aren’t. It seems that the specific challenges you and I face individually and collectively today are temporary, but this peculiar dress up routine of trying to play it cool during a phase of life you’re unprepared for? Maybe that’s here to stay. Maybe racing around in our socks and then laughing about it later is the way to show up for those moments when you feel too young and too old at the same time. Maybe some people are self-assured and extroverted enough to keep their feet up on the ottoman and wave hello to the parents through a mouthful of salad. Maybe the universe knows that the way to remind me of the knowledge that’s already inside is to make me laugh at myself. Maybe the greatest gifts are these funky, awkward, sometimes painful lessons. Maybe more important than the lessons themselves are the people I’ve been blessed with whom, when I bring them my difficult, weird, usually uncomfortable stories, embrace me and remind me that I’m not alone. They tell me that it’s okay to be figuring it out day by day, that they’re mostly faking it too and promise me that we’re going to be okay. Maybe this is the messy and the beautiful thing none of us really signed up for.