What It Means to Be a Grown Up- Guest Author Debbie Ernie

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A couple weeks ago, I’m putting trash down my apartment’s
rubbish chute, my boyfriend standing next to me. One of the perks of dating
someone nearly seven years is sometimes you don’t need words. This is one of
those times. I drop the bag, and then realizing I’ve done something impossibly
stupid, make a face. I make my I-didn’t-just-do-that face. I make that face
pretty often. I don’t say a word, but he knows.
“What just happened?” he
asks.
I respond, reluctantly, “I
dropped my phone down the chute.”
A couple minutes later,
he’s dumpster diving for my cellphone because I’m too short to climb into the
trash bin, and he’s too sweet to let me try. I’m thinking, as he’s digging, Why does this always happen to me? When will
I finally be a grown up?
            When I was a
little girl, I kept quotes in sloppy handwriting in notebooks with moons on the
front. I caught caterpillars in my parents’ little garden while they planted
tomatoes and green beans. I’d stand on the wooden garden gate and silently
recite my favorite quotes, eyes closed, soft caterpillar feet almost
indistinguishable from the small hairs on my arms. My absolute favorite was
from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Back
then, I thought adventure meant a place. Back then, that place was India. It
was elephants and women in long skirts dancing with hips and hands. I ached for
my adventure.
            I went to Costa
Rica when I was seventeen. Then, adventure was a rainforest. It was wet socks
and burning calves. It was nature’s clockwork rain showers and banana leaves I
measured my height against. It was a scorpion that crawled from my mattress the
days I spent with a Costa Rican woman as her houseguest. She had wild
brown-black hair and spoke only limited English. I spoke only poor Spanish
then. We ate dinner, rice and beans—always
rice and beans—her and her sixteen sons. Hijos. I knew that word. Sons.
When she pointed to them all, near middle aged to toddler, and said hijos, I must have made another one of
my faces. I must have looked surprised. She laughed. “Wanting a daughter,” she
said, “I keep trying.”
           
            I have roughly
two weeks of my grad program left – two
weeks
. That’s no time at all. And now the big question is: what’s next? Do
I apply to teach in China, Turkey, Spain? Do I stay in the Midwest, in the
States, marry the man that I love, start a family? Can I do it all? And if I
can’t, will I regret what I don’t do? Would choosing home and family be a
betrayal to caterpillar young me? My heart is full of indecision.
Lately, I’ve been coming
back to my time in Costa Rica. I’ve been remembering the thin flip of that
scorpion’s tail; learning to surf on a white sand beach, and not being very
good; sleeping beneath the long treetops. I’ve been remembering my adventure.
But mostly, I’ve been thinking of her, the woman with the sixteen hijos. I’ve been wondering about her
adventure. Adventura. You can’t tell
me, sixteen sons in, her life has none. It’s just a different one than mine. And
that’s got me wondering if my definition of adventure is too small. If little
girl me was too young to see the whole picture. If maybe being a grown up
doesn’t mean a loss of adventure as I’ve always feared, but instead an
expanding use of vocabulary. Maybe I am not deciding between the adventure of Turkey
or the non-adventure of Minnesota. Maybe they are two different adventures.
Maybe that’s what makes choosing so hard.
It doesn’t answer my
“what’s next” question. It doesn’t make every decision easy. But it frees me a
little. It makes family just as noble and exciting as adventure; it makes
family one definition of adventure. It makes me a little closer to a grown up
than I thought.

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Debbie Ernie is a recent graduate from Minnesota State University-Mankato with her MFA in Creative Writing. When she’s not dropping phones down rubbish chutes, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, teaching yoga and English, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in Mankato with her rabbit, Edmund, and Beta fish, Sirius Blue.
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