Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What Do I Know?

Ring.

Ring.

CONSORT (Whispering): Hello?

QUINN: Hi, it’s me.

CONSORT: I know, I saw your name, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked up. Can I call you back, I’m in the middle of a...

QUINN: It’s a quick question. Do we tip our hairdresser?

CONSORT: Leigh?

QUINN: Yeah.

CONSORT: No. She owns the shop. You don’t tip the owner.

QUINN: Thanks.

(Pause.)

CONSORT: Why are you whispering?

QUINN: I...don't know.

(Pause.)

CONSORT: That’s it?

QUINN: Yeah. Bye.

CONSORT: Bye.

At what point do I just start knowing the things adults know? I’m far into adulthood by any measure. In many cultures, I would be breathlessly awaiting my fifth grandchild by now. Actually, in many cultures, I would have died in childbirth, but you get my meaning: I should be in full possession of the things grown-ups know. And yet, I stand here in the middle of my life trying to remember how often I’m supposed to clean the air-conditioner vents. I’ve been driving for nearly a quarter of a century and I still don’t know whether a broken parking meter means “Yeah! Free parking!” or “Augh! Ticket!” The fact that no one I’ve asked knows the answer to that one either only soothes me a little.

I don’t even have to leave my house to feel inadequate to the task of being an adult. There are land-mines everywhere I look. Here are some things I don’t know:

I wash my towels every week. Is that obsessive or hygenically risky behavior?

[If you find it disgusting, I’m going to tell you a story to put things in perspective. In my early twenties, I was helping my then-boyfriend pack up for our move-in together. His current apartment had its own washer-dryer and, while boxing up the bathroom, I suggested we wash his towels there before packing them, to make things easier on the other side. He looked confused. “Why would I wash them? I never use them unless I’m clean.” Readers, he had lived there for two years and had never washed his towels. I moved in with him anyway, but I never let him make any domestic decisions. Ever. And yes, a cooler head might have stopped to consider that as a deal-breaker, but we had already signed a lease, he laughed at my jokes and he had the greenest eyes I had ever seen. Two years later, that wasn’t quite enough anymore. Consort’s eyes are also green, he also laughs at my jokes, and he washes towels. So, you know, upgrade.]

Does anyone flip their mattress? Really? I do occasionally, but it seems so overdramatic.

I have five virtually identical instruction manuals for cordless phones on file. We only own one phone which means I have manuals for phones which died up to fifteen years ago. Since I keep buying phones that look alike, and they all have names like VtechLogos 1800, I can’t determine which manual belongs to the new phone, so I have to keep them all. Eventually, I plan to auction off the world’s largest collection of obsolete cordless-phone manuals. This will pay for my medicine in old age. Is this normal?

In all the years we have been a family of three, I have never once been fully done with a load of laundry. If the washing machine is empty, it simply means there are clothes on the drying rack and half-load of moist gym clothes sprinkled throughout the house. The same goes for dishes. In the time it takes me to empty the dishwasher, Consort and Daughter will dab olive oil on their fingers and touch three water glasses each and then, for fun, lick spoons and leave them in the sink. I just know real adults don’t have this problem.

I suspect real adults know how to make a meal that becomes several different meals. The baked chicken on Monday becomes chicken salad on Tuesday, its carcass forming the base of Wednesday's chicken soup and the fat showing up as a fine moisturizer by the end of the week. I have no idea how to do that in our lives. Now, I’ll admit, it’s less straightforward when you don’t eat meat. Cooked black beans, no matter how lovingly prepared, tend to look like leftovers even on their maiden voyage and tofu three nights in a row has been known to make children hide under the house. But creative meal-planning feels like something adults do naturally, like going gray or watching 60 Minutes.

I own a vacuum cleaner. It is truly a modern marvel. It has attachments of great specificity and complexity. It longs to be used for everything up to and including at-home colonoscopy. In the three years I have owned this vacuum cleaner, I have never taken its small fiddly bits out of the sealed bag. Something tells me adults don’t fear their own appliances.

The entire financial situation of the last two weeks has left me studying like I never studied in any academic class I’ve ever taken, but I have to admit that I don’t understand a single damn thing that’s happening. I would chalk this up to my inability to grow up properly but I have yet to hear any governmental official sound too confident either.

Lately I have come to suspect that I will (please, please) grow old and (later, later) die without ever feeling adult. Now the only question is, am I alone in this feeling?

And this is where I come to you, readers. Is there anything you felt as if you would know by now?

40 Comments:

Blogger miss cavendish said...

I've always read that you don't tip the owner. But last week, after having my hair done, per usual, by the salon owner, the desk person asked whether I wanted to leave a tip.

I sputtered something about not tipping the owner as being proper form, but the desk person retorted that that was simply an option; that the owner did indeed accept tips. Is this fallout from the current financial crisis?!

1:22 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

There are dozens of things that make me feel like not enough of a grown up, most of them involving money and taking care of my home.

On the plus, I also think that towels are good for a week and then should go in the wash.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Yep, completely with you. I suspect that the only people who are actually competent at all of those things have OCD. Or at the very least they care enough about those things to know them - so ultimately I've decided to leave being capable of those things to those who enjoy being capable of them. Theoretically, I have my own expertises that I DO enjoy - it's just that none of them happen to be featured in Good Housekeeping or Parenting. Because none of those women seem to be doing the job/college/kid in sports and choir and band/bizarre hobbies/excessive internet use thing. If all else fails, as long as I keep myself ungodly busy I have an excuse for not having room in my head for that stuff.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Michaéle said...

Most days, I fear someone will find out my secret...that I am a fraud and not a real grown up, 40-year-old woman but a child who just looks like one. I feel completely unprepared for most of the things I do every day but somehow, they get done anyway.

The money situation? I keep telling myself two things: My mortgage is in good standing and I don't have to access my retirment account for at least 25 years so all the stocks I'm reinvesting in with my dividends at a low price will make me more money years down the road. Oh, okay...so I heard Suze Orman say that on NRP yesterday. But I SOUNDED like a grown up, didn't I?

2:20 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I stumbled upon your blog recently and have been enjoying your take on things, but this entry hits me at my core. I am the one who has always known whom to tip (or when to use "whom"),what fork to use, how to introduce people, how to craft a condolence card, etc.

Despite these skills, I feel like a fraud, a 12 year old. Beyond social etiquette, I am lost. I am 40 years old, and I have no idea how to deal with financial matters - life insurance, home ownership, investments beyond what is offered beyond my work plan, or taxes. I never will. I get that glaze over my consciousness when I try to educate myself re: any of these things. It is all foreign. Professionals can't get the points across to me. I don't want to give up, but I feel like that kid who KNOWS she's not going to get better than a C+ in math.

Thanks for making me feel I am not alone when feeling gaping holes in my adult repertoire. I think I'll take solace in the fact that I can stretch a vegan dish into 3 nights of distinct meals. Let me know if you want tips.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous joan said...

I'm in my 60's and although I've gotten older I still refuse to grow UP. I don't use my vacuum attachments as they seem to hate me. Laundry and dishes never stay clean unless you're on vacation.
I love your blog.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make me feel less alone. It feels like everyone else around me has everything figured out. Adulthood still confuses me like nothing else!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Not The Rockefellers said...

Quinn, you are soo not alone.
45 going on 15 over here.

Peace - Rene

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the meter is broken I believe you are supposed to call the folk responsible for servicing it. Once the call is logged you can park there for the prescribed period.

That's the extent of my grown up knowledge. Mu Dad was one of the folk who serviced meters.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I come to your blog because it always seems that when I feel the most alone and spiraling out of control in my chaos of life with 2 relatively small children, you end up going through the same thing in your life. thank you. you ground me. Your writing is like a pat on the back telling me it is ok to forge ahead with stains on my shirt and rubber bands for hair ties. Hope to see you soon.
Jul~

7:56 PM  
Blogger Janice said...

I love your blog - its a good day when you make a post!

I think we all have our areas of expertise, where we feel comfortable, in control and grown up. All the other areas are someone else's specialty and the adult thing to do when we find ourselves uncertain is to ask. So just look around for the nearest person and say "I don't know the done thing here, do you?" - you are back in control and they feel good to be able to help (or you both feel good that you are not alone in not knowing). I learnt this trick recently - menopause is very empowering! You don't feel the need to fake anything anymore!

8:59 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

I'm 58, married 40 years, and I still don't get the whole grocery shopping thing. Or the laundry thing either, for that matter. My brain just doesn't bend that way To be honest I'm no better at either now than I was at 18 which is why The Husband takes care of grocery shopping and laundry these days. An equitable, humane distribution of chores if you ask me. I keep waiting for the day when I wake up and feel like a full-fledged adult but so far it hasn't arrived. (You'd think that first AARP card would've been a clue . . . )

9:12 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

I have that same laundry and dirty dishes problem!

I can't travel to save my life. I don't know who to tip and why. I still can't figure out if I should tip the colorist who comes to my house. She's obviously self-employed, right? And owns herself? I don't know how to move my fridge to clean behind it. Am I supposed to clean behind it?

I am unfit for adulthood.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

For me throwback to childhood. If I enter a store I never touch anything unless I intend to purchase it. Two reasons my mother always said "don't touch" Second I always think I will need to defend myself for shoplifting which is even more insane because I have never in my life shoplifted nor do I look like I might, so why my guilty conscience? Only Freud can help.

5:40 AM  
OpenID addofio said...

When I was in my 20s and 30s I used to be pleased to feel like an adolescent still. I would joke that I was going to go straight from young to old and bypass middle-age (which to me is the essence of adulthood) altogether.

Then I hit my 50s, and as a joke conceived the idea of getting a T-shirt that said "I'm old, but I"m immature" on it (only of course I didn't, and don't, quite know how to get that done).

Now I'm 61--and it's all coming true. I feel old some days, and I feel immature (adolescent) some days--but I hardly ever feel solidly adult. So I just look forward to retirement, planning out my second childhood in my fantasies. What the heck, might as well enjoy it.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Pamela said...

I’m 41 years old and there are many things that I think I should know but don’t. For instance, when you buy bed linens, should you wash them before use or not. I always wash them but I wonder if I need to. They are wrapped in plastic but how do you know that someone hasn’t opened it up and sneezed all over them? Too obsessive?

I’ve had my new cell phone for about a year but I still don’t know how to set up the voice mail. I know there’s a manual in my house for this, but where, I don’t know.

I can’t figure out how to change the time on my car clock. During daylight savings time I just try to remember to add an hour. I know there’s a manual around for this too. Somewhere.

I agree with your other readers who say that they don’t feel their age. I think about all the things that I’ve done and I’m amazed that a twelve year old can do these things. Of course then I look in the mirror and that thought is shot.

I raise my wine glass to all of us who have these thoughts because they make us human.

Pamela

11:01 AM  
Blogger ~Mad said...

You obviously have struck a nerve here! At 57, I can handle the dishes and the laundry but for the life of me, I cannot get my head around my electronics - specifically the remote for the DVD player through my cable box in the living room...so I just watch any DVD in the bedroom!

I also count one hour ahead when in the car so I don't have to change due to daylight savngs time.

I'm with Janice on the menopause thing - you don't have to fake it any more - ask my poor coworkers!

~Mad(elyn) in Alabama
www.xanga.com/madewyn

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can answer my cell phone and dial out. That's it. In this regard, I am even below adolescence, as my children are quite adept at this.

I fear vacuum attachments. I can't keep Mt. St. Laundry from erupting on a nearly daily basis. I don't know when you are supposed to call the apartment management to fix things, and when it's your responsibility. I do wash towels every week, sheets every two, because that's what my mom told me to do.

I am aghast when pollsters call our house. Don't they know I don't have grownup opinions yet? I'm only 45...

1:00 PM  
Blogger stash haus said...

Gah! I, too, tipped the owner of the salon because the receptionist asked me if I wanted to add it to the amount. Now I'm stuck tipping because I'd be too embarrassed to go back to not tipping. It's either that or change salons.

I can't plan meals to save my life - if I were single, I'd still be eating oatmeal for dinner. I've no interest in gardening. I don't know how my car works. I have no clue about wine or champagne and probably couldn't tell the difference between an expensive vintage and Two Buck Chuck. I have yet to send a text message and would have to read my phone manual to figure out how. I have to wash towels and sheets every week. And, like Pamela, I believe new sheets, new clothes, new underwear, etc., must be washed before using - the only exception being a swimsuit. I have no idea how to deal with financial matters and leave it all up to my husband, but I pay all the bills because it drives me nuts that he doesn't keep track in the check register. I can't put a gift bag and tissue paper together and not have it look liked something the cat played (very roughly) with - and I'm only marginally better with gift wrap. I've never owned sheets or bedding or towels that are color coordinated with the room they are placed in.

And I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you, to find out on each year on my birthday how old I am.

1:05 PM  
Blogger B-More Dog said...

I could kiss you. I'll be 33 in a few weeks, and I still think "how could X be getting married/having a baby/gainfully employed? We aren't old enough for that!" The list of grown up things I do not know is truly humiliating (I do know all kinds of random useless information, but have as of yet to discover ways to get paid for this knowledge.)

And laundry... ugh.

It is absolutely the world's worst chore, because it can never be finished without extreme humiliation (or a perfect body and self-esteem, neither of which I have). In order to be finished with laundry, you would have to do it totally naked, in a house with no curtains, towels, or bed linens. Otherwise, something else is getting dirty and needs to be cleaned.

btw - new website for us - www.bmoredog.ning.com!

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Deb said...

I'm 36 (and three quarters), and I have the same laundry problem as you. But, although I have a drying rack, I'm too lazy to use it so my bras often adorn our dining room chairs. Only half of the clean laundry ever gets folded, and about 1/3 gets put away. The rest is accessed straight from the basket.

Then there are the dishes. If the dishwasher is clean, but not unloaded, the sink fills up quickly with copious amounts of glasses, baby spoons and dishes, etc. If it’s dirty (whether there’s room or not), the sink fills up quickly with copious amounts of glasses, baby spoons and dishes, etc., either because Husband is confused about loading said dishwasher, or I’ve forgotten that I already unloaded the clean dishes.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous meadow said...

I want to know when I'm going to get grown up hair. With a brief excursion of growing it out longish, I'm back to the same hair cut I had in grade school with bangs and all. I'll be 50 in two months. Maybe I'll be a grown up when my favorite drink stops being a Shirley Temple- two cherries please!

9:09 PM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

Hey Quinn,

I think in LA you can still get a ticket even for a broken meter but I'm not sure about the surrounds like Glendale or Burbank or Pasadena. I tend to call the number on the meter to check. I have gotten a ticket before so I'm kinda paranoid about it.

But as far as feeling like an adult, hell no. I'm in my forties and totally feel like I'm 15. Just for today, the new zit on my chin may be helping with that, but in general I am in awe of people who can coordinate their clothing and not have a stain anywhere. That is a goal I have not mastered. at. all.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

The time I feel most grown up is when I travel alone, which is very rare, and rent a car- all by myself. The first time I did this I was 33 and when I arrived at my hotel, I realized how I always let my husband take care of those details.

Having teens forces me to act like an adult, but many times I'd prefer to go hide in a corner. Great post!

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because you are smart, you admit what you still do not know. I assume because of my chronological age that I know things, only to discover while in conversation with others that I am, in fact, a blazing moron.

Perhaps there are things we are never meant to know?

And I'd let myself off the hook if I were you. You may think you don't know things you are supposed to know by now, but since yours is the only blog I have to read with "Dictionary.com" in another open window, I think you know plenty. But what do I know? I am a blazing moron.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Christine said...

I love how you convey exactly what I am feeling. I also appreciate that I'm not the only one who should know these adult things but doesn't. I too have problems with tipping, if my basement flooded I don't know who to call, and I can never remember how many senators and representative there are in congress - truth be told I'm not even sure I know who my senator is. So in the end I'm just trying to deal with being a 42 year old who still feels 17. Not the hip, fit, belly shirt wearing, good hair seventeen year old, the still carrying the baby fat, acne prone, hair that does nothing insecure seventeen year old. Argh!

2:21 PM  
Blogger oldladymac said...

Hi Quinn, Love your take on life. Here's the best explanation i've heard about what happened: http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=365

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

I married the guy who, when I went to visit him while he was living in Vienna doing a Fulbright, had not washed his towel in the 9 months he'd been there. I could smell his towel (I'm not kidding), when I walked in the front door of the apartment. He, too, was under the impression that a towel used on a clean body, could not, in fact, be dirty. He's better now.

Also, please tackle the vacuum bag issue. My OCD is in full blown panic over that one. You'll be glad you did.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Jakarta Rocks said...

Hi Quinn,
I agree, I think that is how all adults really feel, like we are all faking. When the kids ask questions with that look on their face like you know all the answers of the universe, it does cause you to wonder why.
Best thing I ever did was read - A short history of almost everything by Bill Bryson - lots of facts about everything - you feel really knowledgeable (and begin to understand that there are still lots of things that no one knows).

For food being leftover - I have never mastered that - but thankfully don't need to for a long time to come.

Good luck, love the posts.

Tracey

3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel the same way often! I was in my mid 20s when someone told me that I had to get the oil changed in my car. I've never made a pie...wouldn't know where to begin. I didn't know I could adjust the temperature on my water heater to get hotter water in my shower. The list goes on and on. I have a good friend I call my "go to person". She seems to know EVERYTHING. My mind on the other hand is filled with useless trivia. I'm 41 years old and sometimes (often really) I wonder if I will ever feel like a grown up.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

If you promise not to tell ANYBODY, I will tell you that I have NEVER pumped gas in my life.

I am 50, but I still have that same feeling nearly every day that I had in kindergarten - that I am not going to roll my resting-time-mat correctly, and the teacher will make me roll it again in front of everyone.

My go-to person was always my mom, who had the nerve to come down with Alzheimer's and leave me to navigate frightening things like unmolding jello to chance.

Oh, and I absolutely stink at floor scrubbing.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Jackie said...

Hello all.....well, I am 46 years old and proud of it, although I feel much younger. I'm sure I have some sort of OCD because I'm one of those people who have to have the whole house clean before I go to bed, or sadly I will lay in bed thinking about how I need to clean the house....crazy huh? I do use bath towels a few days then wash them, and as for buying stuff....I always wash them first even if they are all packaged up. And I LOVE my vacumn !!! including all the attachments...gotta do those stairs. Cleaning I'm good at, it's the cooking and house stuff....paying the bills,knowing where all important insurance papers are, all our tax stuff....etc, it's horrible that I let my hubby take care of it all. So I guess alot of days I feel very immature. Guess I could take a break from cleaning and go over everything with him!

9:52 PM  
Blogger CDP said...

oh, so many things. I do know how to plan leftovers and lunches from one meal (yay me) but I've never attached anything to my vacuum cleaner, and my financial planning strategy during the crisis has been to leave my 401ks and mutual funds alone, refuse to open the statements, and just hope that everything will work out. Again, yay me!

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Courtney said...

My mom and I have discussed this before...despite the fact I have a great job, a loving husband and just bought my first home I don't feel at all like a grown up...I am scared I will always feel perpetually 24. My mom thinks people are "born" to certain ages...for instance, she always says my uncle was born to be a 40 year old man. She and I, though, seem stuck in our early twenties, not ready to do much besides find the next party or fun thing to do -

8:11 AM  
Blogger NJDecorator said...

Mine is the car radio time - I have no idea how to change it and will struggle for three months and then give up. I am happy to assume it is right at least half of the year.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Todd N. said...

Aha! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one!

My mind is still 25 or so. How in the world did I get trapped in this 45-year-old body?

Love your writings, Quinn!

Peace,

Todd

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Karen said...

i am 51, and still don't feel grown up. i've never owned a home, so have no idea what mortgages and property taxes are all about. and i rarely vacuum even though we have 2 cats. i know we have those attachments, too, and i know what to use some of them for. but they'll get lost before we use them.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Rhonda said...

When I answer the phone, people think I'm one of my kids. Cooking unusual cuts of meat confounds me. My husband put a weird attachment on the vacuum to suck up Christmas tree needles, and I have no idea how to get it back to normal. I can't mend -- my mom still does it for me. And just last night, when going to a new destination, I furtively Mapquested it because I have no idea how to use the GPS I got for Christmas. Quinn and commenters, I'm home alone but I laughed until I cried at your stories.

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

A what? Drying rack? No clue what that is.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Jenny M. said...

Drying rack? What is that? (It took me 8 tries to post this comment.)

2:31 PM  

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