My mother told me that when I turned 30, I would find the answers to life. Looking back, I think that she meant 30 is when you figure out how to pay all your bills on time, you realize that credit cards are not your friend, and day drinking while shopping is preferable to nightclubs and hangovers.
Being asked to share the one point in your life that was your ‘Coming of Age’ moment is like asking what your favorite thing to eat at a movie theater is. There is no one correct answer. First, popcorn with butter to tie you over until the movie starts. Red Vines during the boring parts. Reese cups for the mid-way point. And finally, the cheery and coke flavor Slurpee ensures that you gain all 10 pounds required to watch a new release film properly. The options are endless and dependent on the mood.
I think that I have many ‘Coming of Age’ moments in my life.
1. On the first day of Basic Training, when a short and angry man yelled at me for having freckles and smiling too much, he said I would never make it through the training. I am still not sure what my freckles had to do with being in the Army- but the joke was on him; I spent most of my childhood coming in last- I was completely alright with my position because I always finished. So that moment, when he was done having that one-sided conversation, I knew that I was going to do 20 years plus one day to piss him off.
In the end, I did 20 years plus eleven months… to really rub it in. That is called- exceeding the standard!
2. The day that I was a brand new mother in Germany, trying to buy formula, and when I went to pay, I realized I didn’t have my debit card. The man behind me must have seen how exhausted I was. I was in uniform, covered in my sons’ recent disagreement with his bottle, hair falling out of the once neat and tidy bun, glasses covered in baby fingerprints, and boot laces untied because it seemed like a waste of energy to tie them correctly. The gentlemen, without a word, handed the cashier his card and said, ‘it’s on me.’
Oh lordy, did I cry? Absolutely! Sobbing turtle tears, nose running, unable to get the words out….I was a mess. The cashier looked at me and said- ‘we understand.’ The gentlemen smiled and patted me on the back. That was it. I walked out 2.3 seconds later and headed home with the understanding that I was not the only person who had been on this journey. There were people before me that made it through the 7th level of hell and survived. I was going to survive!
My son turned 21 recently, and I am proud to announce that I finally caught up on my sleep from that first year.
3. The day I quit my first civilian job. That was a memorable day for me! But, you have to understand- I was in the military for 20 plus years, which is the same as two life sentences. I never knew that there was freedom in being able to walk away from a job. It was not in my vocabulary- ‘quit.’ But walking away was the best possible answer for me in this situation! And I did it with a flourish! Boxes packed, Notice of Resinagation signed, coffee pot safely tucked away in the back of my car- I was ready to go! I walked down that hallway of fluorescent lights and bad attitudes with a purpose. I had swagger. I had a bounce in my step. I knocked on my boss’s door with cheer and happiness.
She was out to lunch! I had to slide it under her door because her assistant said she wasn’t returning until the next day. It was a little bit of a letdown- but at the end of the day, it was my decision and my decision alone. Now- my husband wasn’t too thrilled when I remembered to tell him the following day as I was drinking coffee in my pj’s when I should have been at work. It didn’t matter- I finally checked a block off my Bucket list- at the age of 39, I quit my first job.
4. The day that I became a Grandmother. The day was not the picture-perfect moment that you see in a Hallmark movie. I was actually informed via text message about an hour after my granddaughter was born. A group text, no less. Lordy, were my feelings hurt? Those turtle tears? Yup, they came back.
It took a couple of hours, but then I realized- I was no longer the most influential woman in my child’s life. He had grown up and had started his own family with an amazing young woman and a perfect daughter. My place was no longer on the top pedestal. There would no longer be random phone calls checking in twice a week, no more stopping by to say hi and staying for dinner. He was on his journey, and I would have to get used to the idea that I was no longer a passenger but more of a postcard participant.
18 years. 18 years is all we get with our children before they go out into the world and become something more than we ever imagined. 18 very short years.
This is the real ‘Coming of Age’ moment for me. My oldest is living in another state, surrounded by friends and a decent job that he loves. My middle child is starting his own life with a wife and daughter. My youngest was voted Freshman Class Vice-President and spends most of his evenings on the phone talking to ‘his people’ about better lunch menu options and louder speakers for morning announcements.
The house is quiet and generally always clean now. Food magically is still in the cupboards days after I bought it. I can go three days now without having to do a load of laundry for someone. I can hear the television programs because no one is talking over the actors. It is everything I wished for….and nothing that I want.
At the end of the day- I have had many ‘Coming to Age’ moments. However, there is not just one that defines me. Instead, it is a mixture of significant failures and many small successes that led me to this moment.
I am ready for my next ‘Coming to Age’ moment. I hope it includes a trip to Hawaii!