Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It is lovely to bask in the feeling that comes from being the coolest, most awesomest adult out there, even if it is ridiculously untrue.

But I have to say, I don’t really understand it. Is the painfully loud ticking of my biological clock clearly audible to children under 12? It’s like they know that the last thing on this earth that my maternal instincts need would be encouragement, so of course they lay it on so thick. They are angels who can’t be more adorable/agreeable for the time that I spend in their presence. I’m certain children don’t behave this well for their own parents. It’s the one bit of knowledge keeping me from secretly visiting a fertility clinic to increase my odds of “accidental” pregnancy.

Seriously though, I spend a lot of time around the children of family members and friends. “Aunt Liz” just rolls off the tongue of these young ones, even when I’m not even remotely related to them. I’m warm, friendly, soft, and able to lift fifty pounds, though that last part is not without a certain level of discomfort. But I’m willing to suffer the discomfort many times over in order to hold a child for a few minutes. Of course, I get to give these delightful creatures back to their parents and am only required to lift and hold and love on them for certain small time periods. My role is that of temporary play friend/color-er/ring-around-the-rosie player/getter of milk and juice. I am only mildly responsible for disciplining these children, which probably explains my popularity with them.

I was, however, a very unpopular high school teacher, for the very same reason. I was more responsible for disciplining them, but I found that I had no innate skill at laying down the law. When I coached the swim team in my hometown, I had sixty kids who literally would do anything I asked at the drop of a hat. They loved me (or at least, in comparison with my other experiences with students). Because we’d established relationships well before I became an authority figure, they saw me as someone who deserved respect. My high school students saw me as someone who deserved to be tortured and humiliated. I’d like to think my swimmers had it right.

Now what I hear is that your own children are much easier to discipline than someone else’s. It’s your natural role as parent. Their behavior is a reflection of your parenting, so you have external motivators for providing that behavior management.

What I wonder is, will my own kids (imaginary as they may presently be) love me as much as other people’s kids tend to? I don’t expect much from teenagers, who apparently scare the living daylights out of me, but I have plenty of time to prep for that eventuality. I just need to know: is it just the fact that I don’t have to say “no” to other people’s kids or is it just that I’m so warm and fun and loveable?

Who am I kidding! I already know the answer. I’m so gosh darned loveable it’ll be impossible for my own equally loveable (imaginary) children not to love me just as much as those of my friends and family.

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And the real story begins. I’ve been tripping over the edge of the sidewalk’s end for five years – married and moved out, finishing and finished with school, job hunting and finding… My lovely husband has to remind me regularly that I don’t need my parents’ permission to buy, say, a new rug, and my lovely parents still try to force me to exercise whenever I’m visiting. Part of me is excited to be living my own life on my own terms. The other part is begging my parents to step in and tell me how to live. (Note to Mom and Dad – ignore that last sentence. I don’t really mean it)

What do most people do when they’re in this “in between” place? When they aren’t children, but also don’t have children of their own? 

Here’s what I do: fake it.

  • “Hi, former-co-worker-at-the-high-school-where-I-spent-a-year-fearing-for-my-sanity-much-less-my-life, no, I’m not still teaching. Yes, I am absolutely thrilled with my new job. Of course, I just love the traveling salesman gig. Who wouldn’t?”
  • “Mom, I promise that I will exercise tomorrow. No, I haven’t had a chance to clean up the guest bedroom yet. I know, I know, it’s been nearly two years, I should have all of my boxes unpacked by this point.”
  • “Oh, my goodness! High-school-friend-I-am-reconnecting-with-for-the-first-time-in-eight-years! It’s so fantastic to see you again. Yep, I still write. Indeed, I still do love math. No, no kids. Who wants kids when they could take care of the virtual zoo my husband and I have started in our 1200 square foot home?”
  • “What’s up, neighbor-across-the-street-who’s-name-I-can-never-remember? Sure, I’ll bring in your mail for you while you’re on vacation this summer! No, we never go on vacation, no cash flow. I know! Everything is so expensive these days…”
  • “Holla, younger-sister-who-is-adorably-more-befuddled-by-life-than-I-am, I would love to offer you sage advice based on my years of experience in the real world. Please tell me your 4.75 college GPA hasn’t dropped a hundredth of a point! Oh no!” (Note: I didn’t know it was possible to get above a 4.0 GPA in college, either. Leave it to my sister to find that out…)
  • “Boss! Thanks for calling today, I appreciate that you took the time. I know, living in different states makes communicating difficult. It is weird not working out of a real office. Of course I’m adjusting to the traveling. No, I really don’t mind cold calling. It’s just ordering pizza that makes me cry…”
  • “Darling-sweet-and-wonderful-nieces-that-I-don’t-get-to-see-often-enough, never grow up. Never.”

It’s the talking to people who don’t quite get it that makes things so difficult. Are they really all that grown up, or are they really like me, faking it hard, and I’m just buying into it because I’m so desperate for someone to  have a clue what they’re doing?