Today was an exciting day for me. It will not sound exciting to anyone else, but here it is: I received a large package from The Gap.

The package was for me. It wasn’t a gift for someone else, or a mistake, nor did the package contain shoes or a bag or other accessories. No: it contained actual clothes. Maternity clothes. For me.

Now, the reason why this is so exciting is because the last time a piece of clothing – namely a pair of jeans and men’s shirt – from The Gap fit me was in 1996, if I remember correctly. I was a sophomore in college. It was a long, long time ago.

 

 

I did not miss The Gap in all those years. I have worn size 18 clothes pretty much since 1996, and when you are curvaceous like that, you just know and accept that some stores our out of reach. Sure, I may have stopped in front of its shiny, glittering, yuppie windows and longed for a pair of signature khakis, but then I snapped out of it. Whatever. I have boobs and thighs and a stomach and sure, a few extra rolls of chub where they shouldn’t be. The Gap does not approve of that. So screw The Gap.

But this is not about bashing a clothing store.

Shopping for maternity clothes was fraught with anxiety in the beginning. Everything made me look too… pregnant. So I wore my “normal” jeans and tops until about 18-19 weeks, when my bulging belly just said “no thanks.” The whole gum band through the buttonhole trick worked for maybe a week or so in extending the life of those jeans, but it did not exude sexiness or fertility-goddessness. Not at all. Also, pregnant women have to pee a lot. No gum band should stand in the way of that.

It was time to shop.

I wondered into The Gap really by accident. I wanted to check out their baby section – surely my newborn baby will not be too fat for Baby Gap standards. And there, in the back of the store, was a whole section of maternity clothes! “Nah,” I thought. “I won’t fall for this.” But I pulled out a shirt… It looked vaguely like it might fit me. And another… That too, looked surprisingly like it was made for actual pregnant humans. I tried them on.

They fit.

Emboldened, I ordered two sweaters and two t-shirts from their website. They arrived today and they all fit on every part of my expanding body – boobs, belly, everything.

As I stood in front of the mirror tonight, my resentment towards the store – and towards my curves – vanished in an instant. I know that after I have the baby, I will not be able to shop there again – and I probably wouldn’t want to either. The Gap is not really my style.

But I think that in a strange way, those couple of t-shirts and sweaters helped me make sense and appreciate what is going on – with my body and with my life. Most days, even as the baby gently kicks my rib cage, I am still in vague denial about what’s going on in there.

But things are changing – I can’t deny that. What used to fit, does not fit anymore. What used to be off limits, now seems possible. What used to taste good now seems repulsive. My body is off on some strange mission of its own – most of the time without my permission – not really caring what I dress it in or what I want it do or not do. I am not in control anymore and strangely, I don’t want to be.

I looked at myself in the mirror for a while tonight, admiring the way the blue and white stripes of my new t-shirt hugged my belly and the way my new gray cardigan draped around it. It didn’t seem like my body – I didn’t see any fat rolls or too much breast or a big butt. I saw myself for the first time in 26 weeks and three days.

I am having a baby.

The stories start right after Sunday lunch.

We are all crammed around our tiny kitchen table – me, my brother, my parents, my fraternal grandmother, and my maternal grandfather. The table only fits four, so my Dad is sitting on the office chair brought out from the living room and I am sitting on a small, red leather stool that’s usually in the hallway. I am wedged between my brother, my grandfather, and the dishwasher.

Our Sunday lunches – golden chicken soup, Wiener schnitzel with potatoes and cucumber salad, brownies – start late and end quickly. Toward the end of the meal the others know what is coming and they start to scramble towards the living room right after the last bite of dessert.

It is probably my position at first – too far from the door with no obvious escape route – that makes me the perfect audience for my grandfather’s stories. Later I feel too polite and too invested to get up and leave with the others.  

So I load the dishwasher and sit back on my little red stool and prepare myself for a long afternoon.

Most of the stories I already know by heart. There is the story about my great-grandfather who sold jewelry to patrons of a gentleman’s club and then bought back from the ladies who worked there.  Or the story about the time my grandfather hid in an attic for three months from the Nazis, living on water and beans while Budapest was being bombed. Or the time he took 25 orphan girls from Budapest to Romania on a cattle car right after the war by tricking other passengers into believing that they all had typhoid fever.

There are many, many stories about my grandmother, who walked for three days in November 1944 to the Austrian-Hungarian border on the way to Dachau Concentration Camp.  He talks about their life once the camp was liberated by the Americans. My grandfather made his way there on falsified Russian military papers to find my grandmother alive, working as a translator for the Dachau War Criminals Tribunal. There is the story about Maxi, the Peugeot 202 they bought after the war in Dachau for 60 Marks. About the BMW motorcycle they brought back to Budapest in a wooden crate and sold to buy furniture for the apartment where my little red stool is now my perch in the kitchen.

So many stories, they are hard to keep straight. Times, names, places change as he tells them the third or fourth or fifth time, but I am 14 and I don’t bother with the details or inconsistencies. After a while, it all seems like one big fairy tale – parts of it true, parts of it fantasy about a long-gone era and people, including my grandmother who died of cancer when my mom was 18. The questions I do have – like why did he prepare a hiding place for himself but not for my grandmother or how he knew that she was alive – seem too sensitive to ask.

My grandfather’s stories, his 28-page memoir and my grandmother’s brief description of the war tribunals make Dachau sound like a place where American soldiers hand out Hershey bars and nylon stockings.  My grandmother has detailed descriptions of how many cigarettes the SS officers – by then prisoners of war held by the Americans – received per week during the trials. But nothing about what she saw or went through before the liberating troops arrived.  There are no personal side notes, no observances, no reflections about the place and the time and her role in it.

For a long time I don’t really know what it all means and I am not really sure what to do with the stories. As I get older, leave home, and move to the U.S., I feel a vague sense of responsibility to remember what my grandfather told me. There are details that not even my mom knows about, as we find out after my grandfather’s death. I also have a sense that my life in some ways is turning out the way my grandmother would have liked hers to be – the American troops in Dachau did offer her and my grandfather a visa to come to America, but they returned to Budapest instead. It’s a decision that from what I know, my grandmother always regretted.  And now here I am, a U.S. citizen. I feel like this is more than coincidence; that something in my family’s history propelled me to be here.

Almost twenty years after those afternoons in the kitchen, when I first come across this photo on a website about Dachau, I am not even sure it is my grandmother sitting in front of the soldiers, wearing glasses. The pictures I’ve seen of her were taken during summer vacations with lakes and mountains in the background, not with a group of former SS soldiers. The picture was taken during the Malmedy Massacre trials in Dachau, where German soldiers were charged with the killing of 84 American prisoners of war. During the trial, my grandmother was a translator for the defense.

After I find the photo, I am taken aback by the fact that just by typing “Dachau” into Google I find something so personal, something that only existed in anecdotes told over coffee and brownies. The photo makes all of the stories and the people in them real. There she is, my grandmother, who survived Dachau, and who helped to put the bad guys away. It’s real; it’s on the Internet.

The photo also makes me ask whether I am living up to the people behind the stories; whether my story will be worthy of telling someday after a Sunday lunch. I am not really sure. And as much as it felt like a chore to be polite and to listen to my grandfather, looking at the picture I am relieved that I did, that in a way I was a witness to my family’s history – and to mine.

A couple of years ago, when I was fresh out of college and living in my first apartment, my parents came to visit from Hungary. Opening a kitchen drawer, my Mom was surprised to find months’ or even years’ worth of Hungarian snacks, spice mixes, and other food stuff stashed away.

“Why do I keep sending you all this when you don’t use them,” she asked me. I didn’t really know the answer — or didn’t want to admit — that it just felt good to have all those familiar flavors right at hand, even if I didn’t want or need to use them. The shiny packages of meatloaf mix, the crinkle of the chocolate pudding powder package, all reminded me of home.

Eventually I began to understand that all of us immigrants are hoarders in a way. We might be well-adjusted, we might fit in, and there might be nothing about us that screams “I am not from here.” But I bet that every immigrant in every part of the world has a drawer like mine, packed with stuff from home.

It doesn’t have to be food — I also hoard magazines from Hungary, crossword puzzles, a package of tissues my childhood friend’s mom gave me when I had the sniffles during a visit to Budapest, and a sweater that was last washed in my parents’ washing machine at home. I haven’t worn it — or washed it — since in hopes of keeping some of that familiar smell intact. It’s fading now, but if I burry my nose in it for a couple of minutes, I can still get a faint whiff of the detergent and the room where it dried on a clothesline.

Another characteristic of this behavior is buying common, everyday things in your home country and smuggling them in to the U.S. because you believe that your country’s product is superior. Now that my parents are living in America, I think they are slowly beginning to exhibit traits of this secret immigrant behavior as well. They just returned from a visit to Hungary and they brought back things like pots, dessert forks, shower gel, and deodorant. Because, you know, there are no dessert forks in America.

OK, I admit — the deodorant was for me. (So what? The American stuff is just too flowery for me!) That, along with bags full of Hungarian cookies, chocolate, and spices all made the trip in suitcases only to be stuffed into secret drawers and cabinets for weeks and months.

I suppose there is nothing wrong with this hoarding. But I feel silly admitting the melancholy I feel when I eat the last cookie from Hungary, or when I run out of my favorite deodorant. So I try not to eat or use everything. And I think this is how the hoarding starts: I purchase and transport products because I truly believe that I will use them. But then the emotional attachment to these products prevents me from actually enjoying their existence. So I end up with expired chocolates and spice mixes, three-year-old magazines, and sweaters that don’t fit anymore.

It feels odd that my identity and how I define who I am are somehow tied to such ordinary objects. I mean, what does an old plastic grocery bag from the Kaiser grocery store chain has to do with who I am? But somehow, it does.  I have bunches of them hidden in the bottom of my closet in a big, comforting pile.

I try to treat my secret hoarding drawer and the stuff in it matter-of-factly: it is there, it serves a purpose, it makes me feel better to have one, and anyone who doesn’t like it can get over it. All right, so I am a little defensive about it.  Maybe it’s because I know that there’s only a very fine line between keeping things for sentimental reasons and having to cut a path from the door to the bed through piles of old plastic bags.

It is the most unique candy bar imaginable. I am not even sure I can call it a candy bar. It is a roll of sweet, lemony cottage cheese – smooth and fluffy, none of that weird, gritty, rubbery stuff – covered in a layer of crunchy milk chocolate. It’s about the size of my middle finger and it’s wrapped in a red polka-dot foil. It’s “Turo Rudi.” Literally translated: Cottage Cheese Roll. Or “rollie,” if we want to be accurate.

My garden taunted me all winter long. And that’s a long time in Maine. For several weeks, the snow was so high that the small wrought-iron fences that give the garden some sort of organization and form were completely invisible. I couldn’t wait until spring to dig my hands into the soil again.

My husband always corrects me when I call the area behind our house a “garden.” “It’s a yard,” he says, and I think he is wrong. A yard, to me, is some sort of vast expanse of grass, maybe some bushes and hedges. Perhaps a flower bed.  I am sure that there is a dictionary definition that would clear all this up, but frankly, I am just not that interested in the terminology.

What we have is a garden.

What we have is an unruly, wild, mossy wildlife area. In the fall when we moved in, the entire garden was shaded from a couple of huge trees and a forest of smaller ones. There are mysterious and as of yet unidentified bushes of various sizes growing out of a stone wall that keeps our house from falling into the brook. Because we also have a brook.  The lower half of the garden is a favorite of the neighborhood kids. There is some sort of a bamboo growing along the brook that’s great for forts, paintball fights and for hunting down frogs and helicopter-sized dragonflies.

I have to admit that I had some romantic notions about gardening when we bought the house. The shade, the seclusion made it all seem very cozy. As I was getting acquainted with the garden I found all sorts of cute surprises – a garden gnome, a bird feeder, a couple of stepping stones, little frog statuettes and a stone turtle. Lovely, right?

The one freaky discovery I had was a cross nailed to one of the trees. It’s a small, ornate cross and it’s positioned where a larger limb must have been cut off. Maybe lighting hit there? Who knows? And even though I am not a cross-type girl, you just don’t remove something like that. What if that’s the only little piece of protection that’s keeping our house intact?

But back to the garden… So, those romantic notions of gardening quickly disappeared as the leaves fell from the trees. All 97 million of them. Pretty soon, gardening became nothing more than leaf management. Sure, they were yellow, and red, and rusty, and orange, and crunchy, and had that amazing fall-leaf smell. But I was knee-deep in them, with no end in sight.

The first snow was a relief. By spring, all of those leaves on the ground will become good, nutritious compost for the soil, I thought.

Not so. Spring leaf management is similar to fall leaf management. The only difference is that there are juicy, fat worms between the layers of wet leaves, along with more unidentified sprigs of life – bright green, cheery, hopeful.

While in the fall I was happy to let things take their natural course in the garden, the spring is making me nervous. I am responsible for this living, breathing piece of land behind my house. I should know what it needs, right? Trimming? More water? Less water? Sun? Shade? Should I just let it be?

Landscapers have come and gone, shaking their heads, making me feel like a bad parent for not forking over large sums of money and also for not doing it all on my own. I feel like the working mother of a piece of land.

I am looking out at the garden as I write this. The sloping terrace with its hidden steps, the curve of the brook, the lone pine tree – I still find it all very soothing. So I go outside from time to time to check things out. I rake some leaves. Pick up a couple of broken branches. Sweep the dirt off the stepping stones. I’ll buy some pansies this week and fill the planters on the garage and in our windows.

Slowly, leaf by leaf, the garden and I come to an understanding. I do the best I can. She will keep the leaves on the trees as long as possible next fall. I will hire the weird Italian man with the scar to do a bit of cleanup. She will make sure that the hibiscus bush produces golf ball-sized blooms.

It will all work out.  

My first kiss tasted like red wine and cigarettes. These are not completely unexpected flavors in someone’s mouth.   

He was 28, I was 16. He was French, a saxophone player with long hair and an earring. We spent almost every evening together that summer, holding hands, talking, eating dinner, drinking wine. He loved to use the salt and pepper shakers on the table to demonstrate situations. As in:  “this is you” – holding up the salt shaker – and “this is me” – holding up the pepper shaker. Then the shakers were off, moving around the table, doing whatever it was he was talking about.

I am not sure what made him want to kiss me that night. We were sitting on some stairs leading to the waters of the Danube. I swear there were shooting stars in the sky, but I could have been imagining things. I didn’t know how to kiss. I was OK with our lips touching, but once his tongue entered my mouth, I wasn’t sure what to do with it.  I pulled away a bit, mostly to giggle, but he interpreted it as reluctance.

He had to pee.  He walked down a couple of steps to the water and did just that. Then he hailed a cab for me and said good night. The next time I saw him, there was no more talk of kissing, even though I spent the previous week listening to my more experienced cousin explain what exactly I had to do in case kissing turned into something more. She described a man’s penis as a wooden stick in a soft, leather case. This, as I later found out, turned out to be quite accurate.

But not with the French guy. Because he explained that he was a butterfly, flying from flower to flower, and he didn’t want to hurt me. That was sort of decent of him.

My first, real boyfriend kissed me while we were sitting at the same spot, along the Danube. I think I took him there, because I felt like it was a good make out spot. He sat behind me, a step up, and leaned in.  He told me he loved me. I didn’t need to hear that, but it was nice. We kissed for a long time, his hard-on stabbing me in the back.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and other kisses, too.

Like the German guy. He was mixing the fuzzy navels at a college party all night, then took me back to his room and showed me card tricks. We sat on the floor of the tiny room, Indian style, and all I could think about was wrapping my legs around him.  I looked at his ring that had his initials on it, and for a split second I realized that I didn’t know what the “D” stood for.

But it didn’t matter. He kissed me, like he was about to swallow my face, holding my head in his hands, stroking my hair. He was delicious.

Years later a good friend and I found ourselves at my apartment, on my brand new love seat, watching late night TV. Very late night TV – past SNL, and the late news, and the infomercials. We drank vodka and grapefruit juice and his left hand drew circles on my shoulder.  “So, we are making out now,” he said after the first peck.  Well yes, we were. And it was wild, dizzying, tender, and incredibly hot. Hours later, when I regained my senses, I was sitting on the floor, with parched lips, panting, wondering if my eyes will ever focus again.  Some days, when I need something to smile about, I still think about that night and his kiss.

My last first kiss happened nine years ago on that same love seat, after a dish of Dairy Queen vanilla soft serve. There was a bowl of apricots in the kitchen, and he cut one up and fed it to me, slowly, slice by slice. My eyes were closed, but I heard the soft clink as he put his glasses on the coffee table and I knew that the next bite will not be an apricot. We now buy apricots frequently every summer, commemorating the event.

So, I’ve been thinking about these kisses, because I’ve been also thinking about the many, many kisses that have not happened before and since then, and the ones that never will.

There was the guy who flew from California to meet me and left me with a partial kiss on the corner of my mouth because, as he later explained, his feelings for me were more like what he felt for his little sister. Or the kiss on the forehead I got from the Germany guy when he came to say good bye before my wedding. Or the embrace and kiss on the cheek from a married friend that burned on my skin for weeks. I thought that surely everyone can see the red outline where his lips have been.

So many possibilities, so many roads not taken, so many mistakes averted, lives changed or left undisturbed. A small turn of the head, or a hug that’s just one short moment longer than necessary, and that’s it. You are not who you are and your life is suddenly off in a whole new direction. And all because of – what? I mean, kissing is like sticking your nose in someone’s ear. Or sticking your finger up someone’s nose.  It’s totally ridiculous.

If I am lucky, I will never have a first kiss again. This makes me sad. I used to enjoy the butterflies, and the bumping noses, and the clinking teeth, and all the weird, slobbery awkwardness. And no matter how hot your marriage happens to be, there is just no way to recreate the Danube, and the shooting stars, and the taste of wine, or the card tricks, or the grapefruit with vodka.

This all sounds melancholy and sentimental, I realize. But these things have been on my mind lately. And while I generally manage to control the kissing, controlling my mind is another story.

Ritual

By Zsofia McMullin

Essay

We have the ritual down pat: My Mom gives me an old t-shirt to wear and she takes her clothes off to her underwear. I mix the hair dye in the bathroom, wearing those plastic gloves that come in the package. I squeeze the dye into a little one-cup Tupperware dish and use a small brush from another hair dying kit to apply the color.

She sits on a little office chair we pull into the bathroom, with a specially designated towel around her shoulders.  I have to start the application at her temples, because that’s where most of the white hairs are. My Mom has tons of hair. It’s thick, curly, and unruly. And going gray. Rapidly.

Once I am done with the temples, I move on to the front of her heard, carefully applying the dye right along her hairline where the surgeon cut her head during her brain surgery a couple of years ago. There is a small hole right in the middle of her forehead where they took out some tumor-ravaged bone.

When I glance in the mirror, I see myself 20 years from now in my Mom’s face. My nose, my cheeks, my curly hair – all like hers. Our laughs are the same and so are the looks we give when someone is bullshitting us: Just a small squint of the eyes, a downward tilt of the head, an almost unnoticeable turn of the lips. It’s a killer look and I am glad I inherited it from her.

By the time I am done with the entire bottle of color, her head looks like a giant radish, dark red from the dye and all of her hair is piled on top of her head. I wipe down her ears and her forehead – I am messy – and we move into the bedroom where we sit for 25 minutes.

We chat. Sometimes about nothing. Sometimes about everything. We have one of those great, complicated, incomprehensible, emotional, wacky, mother-daughter relationships. She knows me better than anyone. I love her for that. I hate her for that. It’s painful and revealing when someone knows you so well.

I know her now too. I know her as an adult – understand her so much better than when I was a rebellious teenager, eager to break free, eager to do anything to not become like her.

I now know that it’s impossible and have given up on pretending that it’s not happening. I cry during commercials. I cry when I say good bye to people who are dear to me. I lavish love on my friends – even if it’s never reciprocated. I yell at my husband to put his hat on when it’s cold. I can’t sleep at night.  I am bull-headed. I always cook way too much food. I always think I know what’s best. I don’t dwell on the past. I plan ahead. I am a fatalist.

We fight. Never about anything that matters; there is never any doubt that we fight out of love.  But even that is rare these days. The long, drawn-out, tearful screaming matches of my teenage years are gone, when all the male members of our family quietly retreated to some distant corner of the apartment while we went at it.  I don’t even remember what those fights were about. Curfew? School? Boys? Who knows?

Now when we fight, it’s more of a quiet, subdued fight. She tells me what’s what. I get defensive. Our eyes well up. We move on. She is always right – but not in that annoying “I told you so” way. She just is – quietly, confidently.

When the 25 minutes are up, she sits back on the office chair and leans above the bathtub so I can rinse her hair. The dye runs in dark streams down her curls and into the drain. I shampoo her hair then massage in a handful of conditioner.  I tickle her ear and neck as I massage and she giggles. I hand her a towel to wipe her eyes. I try to be careful so that I don’t spray her face too much with the shower head, but it’s impossible. We are both soaked by the time I am done.

I clean up.

She dries her hair.

Budapest

By Zsofia McMullin

Essay

I like to stand at the foot of the bed and throw myself on the bouncy mattress. My hair splashes around my face like water and I pretend that I am a weightless, powerless body. I turn my palms toward the sky and hold my breath.

That’s what I was doing as he packed his suitcase. The big bed in the hotel room was wide and flexible, so I bounced for a long time. Once the bouncing stopped I stayed there, staring at the cheap chandelier hanging above me. The hotel was in one part of a converted downtown apartment building, near the train station—a formerly bombed-out, turn-of-the-century building along a wide, congested boulevard. Our window looked out on the wrap-around balcony facing a stone courtyard. Old ladies shuffled by our window and a couple of kids bounced a ball on the old wooden gate below as we made love that afternoon.

By now it was dark and we were dressed and the courtyard was empty. Dishes rattled in one kitchen. A baby cried. Someone must have been sautéing onions and paprika in an old iron skillet across the hallway. The news came on and a window pane rattled as the wind blew it shut.

I shivered.

It was July, but the skies turned dark the moment his plane touched down Friday night. We took a cab to the hotel and made small talk. I stayed behind him as he checked in—this time he gave his real name, not like he used to when he had to sign in to my dorm in college. The receptionist called him “Mister” and then shot me a knowing look. I pretended to not notice. I clung to his arm as we walked up two flights of stairs. The lights in the dark hall were operated by motion censors and lit up the way ahead of us one by one like a runway.

Later we walked along the boulevard—maybe we were talking, maybe not, I can’t remember now. We crossed the road and tram tracks and walked up to the bridge crossing the Danube. The river curves at that point, so we walked almost all the way over to the other side before the city opened up in front of us. The drizzle made all the lights seem a bit dimmer, a bit less like a cheesy postcard.

I wanted him to think that this was romantic. I wanted him to love my city as much as I did. I wanted him to love me.

We stopped and leaned on the rail. The bridge gently swayed as a tram passed by.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I came to see you,” he said, matter-of-factly. He smiled his sweet, crooked smile. There was a raindrop on his eyelashes.

“Yeah, right.”

We held hands on the way back to the hotel, his arm curving perfectly into my arm, his fingers entwined with mine. A decade later I can still feel that pressure on my elbow, my wrist, between my fingers. His thumb rubbed the top of my hand.

I took a taxi home after we made love. I ate leftovers in my parents’ kitchen at 2 a.m. and wondered if he missed me in that big bed. I wondered if he really came to see me and whether his hunger for me was fueled by love, or need, or nostalgia, or something else that I would never know or understand.

The next night I stayed with him. There was no use pretending that I was cool or that I didn’t really care whether he was there or not. I took him to all of my favorite spots in the city, trying to etch the image of him and those places in my mind. He fit in everywhere, sure, but he was so much shinier than that drab July weekend, than my favorite smoky café, or our hidden hotel room. So much shinier than me.

All weekend I pretended that Sunday didn’t exist. But here it was and he was packing and I was playing dead on the hotel bed. He giggled when I started the bouncing, but now he moved around the room quietly, with purpose.

He neatly folded his clothes and placed them in his bag. He picked up my clothes that I left on the floor the night before, folded them and placed them on the chair by the door. He put his shoes on. He tucked his plane ticket in his jacket pocket and checked for his phone and keys.

He finally sat down next to me. I knew he wanted me to leave, but I was clinging to every minute with him. He said he’d rather see me leave than watch me wave as he got on the airport shuttle bus by himself.

He lay next to me and put his head on my shoulder. I touched his hair—so painfully soft—and cried.

“Please tell me that it’s going to be all right,” I sobbed.

“I can’t promise you that; I can’t promise you anything,” he said, almost laughing.

“No, I don’t mean just us — I mean in general.”

“Yeah, in general, everything will be all right.”

My brother always says that if he had a choice, he would have stopped aging right around the time he turned two.

Life was simple back then: Play dates. Naps. Mushy comfort foods. Lots of crawling around on the floor. Do something simple like utter a sentence and the adults around you clap and call you cute names. How much better can it get?

I, on the other hand, always wanted to be a grown up. I wouldn’t leave my mom’s side at the playground, because I just had to listen to what the adults were talking about. Going to sleep was out of the question while my parents were still awake, because I couldn’t possibly miss all the exciting stuff that was going on between my bedtime and theirs.

I thought that adults had it all. They could choose what clothes to wear in the morning and what to eat for breakfast. They could go to work and drink coffee and smoke – all at the same time! – and nobody would tell an adult to “put your gloves on!” or “no dessert until you finish your homework!” Also, as an adult, you could have a boyfriend and get married and have sex and babies – and not necessarily in that order. You didn’t have to account for where your allowance went and, darn it, if you wanted to spend it on pink notebooks, you could and nobody would say a thing about it.

I felt like this about adulthood for a long, long time. Even as I turned into an adult – we could argue about the exact timing – I felt all right about how my fantasies about grown-up life meshed with reality.

But lately I’ve been feeling a bit jibbed by this whole grown-up thing.  It is becoming more and more clear that I’ve been sold a bill of goods and if it’s OK, I’d rather not have any of it, thank you very much.

Through the years and years we spend as children with teachers, parents, and relatives, nobody is really straight forward about the icky stuff. Nobody tells us about the bloody battle to find a career or calling; nobody talks about broken hearts, or what to do when your boyfriend tells you that he likes to wear diapers. There is never any mention of performance evaluations, fertility treatments, mortgage payments, team-building retreats, marriage counseling, unemployment, leaky roofs, ripped condoms, emergency surgeries, car accidents, dead pets, self-doubt, aging parents, taxes, used-car dealers, lost friends, rejection letters, unrequited love, recession, hormones, cubicle farms, voicemail, speeding tickets, mid-life crises, HIV tests, drunk dialing, or lost luggage.

When I mention my discontent to my parents, they usually point out the obvious: I am lucky, because I really haven’t had to face too many challenges. It’s been pretty smooth sailing so far.  True.  But what surprises me every time I come across any of the above-mentioned obstacles, is that despite great parents, good education, supportive friends, I am still taken by surprise and feel unusually ill-equipped to tackle what the grown-up world throws at me. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as my hubby and I are experimenting with fertility treatments. When a few weeks ago I was driving to the doctor’s office with a jar of sperm tucked in my bra, all I could think was “Really? Nobody could have mentioned that this was in the cards?”

I am not sure what I would have done differently to prepare myself for adulthood. Maybe there is no way to prepare. Maybe despite the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, they look at our challenges with the same surprise and wish that they could have warned us, but didn’t know what to warn us about. After all, talking to a two-year-old or even a 14-year-old about fertility treatments is probably not responsible parenting.

The only good news that emerged from my whining to my parents is that it turns out that they did keep my favorite blanket along with “Kacsa,” my blue, polka-dot duck. So I am off to take a nap now.