I recently spent five minutes on the phone pretending to be a proper grown-up. It was exhausting.

I’ve been putting off minor oral surgery for, oh, a couple of years… and the delay in treatment means it’s become a major oral surgery. Yikes. Why did I put it off? Well, it’s a spicy melange of denial, constitutional inertia, poverty, dread of the dental chair (which inevitably sparks my vicious back spasms), and sheer bonechilling dental phobia.

This Mighty Girl post mentioning jaw grafts and cadaver bone didn’t help; the idea is simultaneously fascinating, inspiring (sign your donor cards, folks!), and immediately viscerally horrifying.

So I had to shut up the constant chattering voices in my head that loop around and around your tooth your back your bank account it’s urgent it’s an emergency maybe tomorrow cadaver bone! you have to do this now graft abscess impacted it’s going to hurt you can’t afford it it’s so awful in there OH MY GOD WHAT WILL THEY FIND IN THERE UNDER THE HALF-ROTTED TOOTH and make the necessary arrangements to get it yanked. Well, really what I’ve made are the necessary arrangements to make the arrangements to get it yanked, but anything’s better than nothing and movement is better than inertia.

Just subduing the panicky child inside me long enough to make that preliminary appointment — describing the problem, describing the situation I created all on my own, admitting to my own slack self-care and not getting bogged down in my crippling phobia— brought my heart into my throat and reminded me how often I feel like a child masquerading as an adult.

But then I remember: most people don’t feel like proper adults. (clean all the things?) Most people are making it up as they go along, subduing their fears and laziness and ignorance long enough to make progress, doing the best they can when they can do their best, and muddling along the rest of the time.

Everyone I know is just trying to work it out as best they can. And most of them are doing okay.

Me, too.

Years ago, I was working at friend’s home business during her most hectic season, which happened to coincide with a home repair project that temporarily changed the lay-out… and therefore changed many of her usual processes and procedures. One busy-busy day as we re-arranged the ad-hoc stores of goods while carefully balancing new stock on our hips, she exclaimed in frustration, “This is NOT how the real grown-ups do it!”

And I had a quiet little moment of peace as I realized: of course it is.

Of course the real grown-ups are doing exactly this. They’re frantically trying to balance what they know, what they think they know, what they don’t know — and most frighteningly, what they don’t even know they don’t know — all without dropping the stuff they’re balancing on their hips.

Because we are the real adults. We are the proper grown-ups. What we do is, by definition, the way real grown-ups do it. We set our own terms.

This idea really resonates for me. In our living room, you’ll find a matted print of this xkcd strip. I gave it to The Fella as a Valentine’s gift last year, because it sums up so much of what I think is successful in our marriage: we make our own life up as we go along, we never forget to play, and we believe in our own decisions more than in the conventional constraints of mainstream society.