When did you realize you were an adult?

Or a grown up?

I often see this question posed in an essay contest, but I’ve never actually answered it, so here goes: I realized I was an adult when I was pregnant with Animal and Mineral, and my mom let me borrow her car.

It wasn’t when I actually had Animal and Mineral, although I definitely felt like a mom then.

It wasn’t when I married My Chemical Romance, although I felt like I was taking on an adult action then.

It wasn’t when we bought our first house, although the mortgage ate such a huge chunk out of My Chemical Romance’s paycheck that I felt like I understood what all the adults were always talking about.

It wasn’t when we moved cross-country, although moving for the main breadwinner’s career seems like an adult thing to do.

No, it was when I was 23 and my mom gave me the keys to her car.

I bet my mom doesn’t even remember the conversation, and I know she didn’t realize the magnitude of the moment when she tossed me her keys. But my mom had never offered her car to me. In fact, I had my own car, a little black Ford Focus that I’d bought because I’d test driven it while in my first trimester with Animal and Mineral, on a very humid summer morning, and suddenly I’d had a burst of morning sickness so intense that all I could do was vomit — all over the interior of the car. So I bought it. (That did not feel very adult.)

I was getting ready to leave for my childbirth class, which was at the hospital, but by some miracle was taught by a woman who’d had three unmedicated births. She was very kind. (After Animal and Mineral were born, I called her and thanked her for doing a great job and really preparing a first time mom for labor.) So I was about to leave for class and my mom was sitting on the couch in my apartment (which my grandmother rented for me) reading a newspaper, glasses on, and she absentmindedly said, Here, take my car. It was snowing, or had snowed, or was going to snow — Animal and Mineral were born in January, in Michigan — and she thought her car was better in the snow than my car. Or the ice. Her car may have even had butt-warmers. I don’t remember.

I took the keys and left for the class, thinking, Wow, this is what being an adult feels like. It felt like being offered the keys to your parents’ car. It felt like being eight months pregnant with twins in the winter and being responsible enough to drive your parents’ car, even though the cold and snow and ice actually makes driving more treacherous. It felt like being myself.

I relaxed, in that moment. I wasn’t scared. I was an adult and I was driving my parents’ car and I thought, I will be okay.

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