Had I known adulthood primarily consisted of comparing insurance policy premiums, weighing how much I dislike a bed frame against how much I like its price tag, and sweeping the floor with a broom that’s far too shabby not to itself be in the garbage, I may never have grown up at all. At home, it’s the endless cycle of creating of your own filth and cleaning it up again; at work, it’s the saving of the day by a thread (and sometimes not), and, in either case, often by no merit or fault of your own but simply by blind luck; in the world, it’s the breathtaking gap between the information and experience you’re expected to have and what you’re actually familiar with, which not that long ago was limited to that you’re supposed to brush your teeth twice a day and wash your hands before dinner.
I’m pretty sure nothing could have prepared me for most of this stage of my life, except what I’m doing now, which is merely living it. Periodically as a kid and teenager I would ask my dad to explain to me what insurance was. I’d always end up frustrated, never having made headway in comprehending it at all. While I don’t pretend to fully understand those damned institutions (does anyone? do they?), after a few years of exposure to their various forms I at least have a basic understanding of what they’re for, which kinds are required, and which ones are scams.
There are very few specific things I can point to and say, “Yes, this prepared me for adult life.” I learned how to fill out a check in seventh grade math, a skill I now use at my job and to pay rent. My sister was in third grade and just learning cursive when I signed my name for the first time, copying the shapes of the relevant letters off her homework as best I could. The next day, I presented the result proudly to my kindergarten teacher, from whom I received a light rebuke for attempting something too far above my grade level. From the very beginning, it was Leslie Mae Howard written everywhere, on everything. Every assignment page had my full name at the top (in third grade, followed by a smiley face, a star, and a heart). I even loved to spell it aloud. In fifth grade, when we learned to type, it was all about typing it as fast as I could, and in as many fonts as possible. To groom myself for official intentions, I practiced signing in fancy cursive, trying to imitate the spidery precision of my grandmother’s checkbook handwriting. Today, the hurried signature I scrawl on invoices resembles my name less than ever, about half the syllables having been abandoned, and my past self would be utterly shocked to see that I’ve dropped my middle name from the mark altogether.
My past self would be utterly shocked by many things, some about paths I’ve taken, some about paths the world around me has taken. She would be proud that I still make time to write, and pleased that, careless signature aside, I do still love my name. She would not dare to believe that I’m acquainted with what PIP insurance is or that I go braless in public, often. She’d be gratified that I refuse to back down on my status as a nerd, and surprised that it has actually helped me in a lot of social situations as an adult and rarely—if ever—harmed me.
I’m very fortunate that it has been a relatively slow and steady transition for me; I know many others whose shift into adulthood was more of a hard shove than a gentle progression. I imagine the rest of life must just be like this, too: practicing until it’s natural. Or just pretending until it starts to make a little sense.