With two Aspergers parents, I was adultified early. They had no idea how to enter the emotional world of a child, how to engage my feelings and affirm my safety. Instead, my family nickname became “Stupid” from at least the age of eight or nine because I was so baffling to them, appearing so contrary.
I never broke away from that caretaker role. I took care of them until the day that they died, then wondered if anyone would take care of me. It didn’t appear likely, so I hunkered down.
When I go into the world, I know that I have to be the grown-up. I’m smart, sharp witted, highly perceptive, queer, fierce, born male-bodied, big and loud, and at least a bit overwhelming. People around me expect me to enter their world, make them feel safe, help them move through it, not to have to enter my baffling and apparently contrary space.
Even in the very rare times when I am hopeful that someone will make space for me, do the work, I am most often dissapointed. I don’t end up getting the presence, the attention, the understanding that I need.
With a lifetime of having to be the grown-up is there any surprise that when I am alone I often engage in a playful conversation between my sad & needy child and their caretaker? The voices surface an inner tension, allowing me to explore and vent what has been so very long denied.
I resist taking on social responsibility because I know it will force me to be the grown-up without any place to be the kid, to feel and honour my own feelings and needs.
Now, after a lifetime of practice, I am very damn good at being the grown up. People see that, I know, and so they cede power to me, hoping that I will take responsibility which will allow them to ride along, being confident I will understand, respect and honour their viewpoint and their feelings.
After all, I have learned to wrap honesty in humour, surfacing truth in a constructive way, while that’s something that not only haven’t they practised, but is also something that scares them. Engaging in conflict may make them uncomfortable, unlikable and upset, hurting their own feelings.
In any choice between engaging the feelings they keep hidden and letting the grown-up do the work, well, you know what the outcome is bound to be.
I do know how to be the grown up. I don’t mind doing the work. It’s just that afterwards I want to be able to go home, kick off my heels and be somebody’s girlfriend, somebody’s girl.
That has never proven to be an option for me.
Part of this, of course, is my own weakness in knowing how to play that role. I never got the training and affirmation to master the role for many reasons, not the least of which is how others saw me.
There is no place, though, no service that can help me learn at an advanced and queer age.
“I have been learning how to trust myself,” I once told a partner, “but I need to learn how to trust other people.”
“Can’t you do that on your own?” she replied.
It reminded me of the line from Woody Allen’s “Love And Death,” where a woman tells him that he is very good in bed.
“I practice a lot on my own,” he replies.
It doesn’t work that way, of course, which is why the line gets a laugh.
I know how to be the grown-up. Being the kid, though, is not something I can do. Learning to relax, to trust, to surrender is very hard for someone who had to learn smart defences from an obscenely young age. Even doing a very good job at that doesn’t mean those needs & desires still exist.
If I want to be more present, I need to be willing to be the grown-up. That willingness has to be based on my ability to take care of myself afterwards, processing what feel like slights, insults, amateur demands for indulgence, and other frustrating bits.
People heal & grow in their own time and in their own way, I know, and as any good mother understands, that means you have to meet kids (and all other people) where they are, not where you want them (or even need them) to be.
There are significant benefits to being grown up, to taking responsibility, to building structures. These benefits can provide space and support for a fulfilling life with opportunities of connection. I know this, I teach this.
Acting on it, though, can be tough, especially when I am just trying to serve myself and not take care of someone else. I know how hard the work is, know the cost, understand the limited benefits.
Living in a country where even the elected leaders don’t want to be the grown-up, acting professionally, and instead throw fits, spin out insults and work to create separations that dehumanize does not embiggen a noble spirit to rise above the fray, acting with grace even as others strike out.
I have been the grown-up as a service, enacting the concierge to care for others.
Feeling cared for myself, though, has always been a harder challenge.
And I don’t really see any good way to get help with that.