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 This Week's Stories:

Big Shoes

by Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
posted May 13, 1998

When I was a little girl I had a pair of huge silver high heels in my closet. I’m sure my mom had once worn them to a fancy dinner or special dance, but my wearings were never quite so glamorous. Every once in a while I slapped on some fuchsia Tinkerbell lipstick, put on one of my mother’s fancy nightgowns (that I thought of as Cinderella dresses), slipped my feet into the massive shoes, and walked around the house pretending I was an adult.

Although I felt all grown up with my pink lips and fancy clothes, I know I must have looked pretty silly. The shoes extended several inches beyond my heels, I was virtually drowning in the dresses and my grandmother said the lipstick made me look like a tart. I figured that someday, when I was older, I would look natural in fancy clothes and bright makeup. Now, I’m not so sure.

Over the past few weeks I have found myself in several situations where I had to pretend to be an adult. Since turning 18 isn’t an automatic ticket to maturity, I had to transform my teenager-ly appearance, mannerisms and vocabulary in order to seem more grown-up.

My ragged jeans, tank top and floppy sweater were replaced by a slinky black dress, my combat boots became high heels, and I actually curled my hair. I had to stand up straight, smile a lot, hold my wine glass (filled with mineral water of course) in just the right way, and attempt to remove the word “like” from everything I said.

As I stood around talking to people I did not know, about topics I couldn’t care less about, it became very clear that I didn’t fit in. These high falluting conversations and excessive clothes just didn’t feel right. I had a paranoid suspicion that all the real adults who surrounded me saw me as a small child playing dress up.

As I thought about it later, I realized that for me, dressing up for a formal reception and playing dress up with my mom’s nightgowns and silver shoes weren’t that different. Now that I’m older, my formal clothes fit better and my makeup is more skillfully applied, but I don’t feel any more grown up.

If adulthood isn’t cosmetic or chronological, what is it? Will I wake up one day and just “feel” like an adult? Who (or what) decides when the time has come for the mature part of the soul to overwhelm the child? I guess until I become a real grown-up I can just pretend. For all I know, that could be what everyone else is doing, too.

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