All the Steppers

One of my favorite short stories is "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros.

"What they don't understand about birthdays," the story begins, "and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are --underneath the year that makes you eleven.

"Like some days you might say something stupid, and that's the part of you that's still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama's lap because you're scared, and that's the part of you that's five. And maybe one day when you're all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you're three, and that's okay. That's what I tell Mama when she's sad and needs to cry. Maybe she's feeling three."

I first read this story when I first began to question what it meant to be an adult. Was there some invisible line that you had to cross and then you would just know? Some magical number of cumulated experiences? A secret handshake?

When would it be, exactly—I wanted to know—that it would be my turn to wake up in the morning and have it all figured out? Be the one answering all the questions instead of always asking them?

I thought SURELY by the time I was in my mid-thirties, with four little question-askers of my own. Surely then, I would have reached some threshold of wisdom I could rely on having.

I sort of missed the part in the second paragraph of the story where she talks about her mother needing to cry because she still sometimes felt three.

This last week, I have been a little stuck at three. I don't want to do anything but eat, sleep and throw tantrums. 

Recently, my understanding of how adult people are allowed to behave toward each other got flipped on its head. I find this amount of discombobulation uncomfortable. Sort of like going out in your sweaty work out clothes for a burger and a diet coke, and finding yourself accidentally being seated at a formal charity event dinner at half a mil a plate.

Life should come with at least this warning label: Graduating from High School does not necessarily mean you are free and clear from "High School Drama."

I'm not just 35 year old Stepper. 18 year old Stepper is still in here,—just here behind the bend of this rib—awkwardly holding her chemistry beaker (that she doesn't know she's about to mis-navigate and shatter into a million embarrassing pieces) trying to figure out how it all works with shaky confidence in her ability to understand. hurt my feelings.

So, 5-year-old Stepper is in here, too, feeling desolate because her little playmate told her she didn't want to be friends anymore.

(This happened recently to Daphne, and I'm telling you. It can be devastating to us 5-year-olds.)

And there's bold and brassy 25 year old Stepper, saying "screw it. You don't need this. Your'e better than this."
And 15 year old Stepper is shaking her head, saying, "Once again, I have NO IDEA what just happened."
And two-weeks ago Stepper is saying, "Wait! What about all the things you have been so excited about?! Coaching Convention and teaching Zumba and Hattie's 1st birthday?! You should be allowing yourself to focus on THIS stuff!"
And 9 and 17 and 22 year old Steppers just want to run away and break clear of it all (they're oddly similar) and are gathered around the computer while 22 year old Stepper is looking up one-way flights to Elsewhere for a family of 6.
And 33 year old Stepper is trying to reach out to her true friends in an attempt to remind herself that such a thing really does exist. Really!
And 3 and 5 and 7 year old Steppers just cry and cry (with varying volumes, foot stompings and beneath-blanket hidings).
And EVERY AGE Stepper just wants her mom.

(Thanks, Mom, for the chat.)

So here I am...35 year old Stepper...realizing that between the magnificent chasm of being five and fifteen there are only 10 little years. And between fifteen and twenty-five...only ten years. And...between twenty-five (I had just met Bill!) and now...

So many lifetimes and so many versions of ourselves can slide between the journal pages of just ten years.

And I can't help but think that 35 years of experience might not mean more clarity about the world the way sixteen year old Stepper thought that surely it would. 

The world still baffles me — probably as much as it did when I was an infant!

But I DO know better how STEPPER works. Because I have all of these Steppers with all of these angles and experiences and victories and mistakes...

I may still not know the world. I may live to be 95 and still not truly know it.

But I know me. And you know? 13 year old Stepper? You were SO not as awkward as you always thought you were. And 33 Stepper? You know what? It sucks now, but you're going to use this year. This will fuel you. 19 year old Stepper, you have NO IDEA how beautiful you are - and that's one of the things I like best about you! And ENJOY that little truck while you can! And 5 year old Stepper? You go ahead and cry. Because it does suck.

I feel a little like Sosuke when the Goddess of the Sea asks him if he could love Ponyo even if she moves between two worlds (never quite settling into belonging). He replies, "Mm-hmm, I love all the Ponyos. It's  big responsibility, but I really love her."

I love all the Steppers.

It's a big responsibility.

But I really love her.


Emily said...

And I love this. So much. What a beautiful post and such a true idea. Thank you.