One day years ago, in the middle of a busy day of working cattle, my father had to make a quick trip to town for more vaccine. He had been roping calves, so in addition to his usual boots and his battered cowboy hat, he was wearing his leather chaps and his spurs.
He parked the pickup on Main Street near the veterinarian’s office, went in, and got the vaccine. While he was there, he also picked up a new rope. As he was headed back to the pickup, he met a young mom and her little boy, who was about three or four.
The little kid looked at my dad. His eyes got bigger and bigger as they went from the boots and the spurs, to the chaps, to the coiled lariat, and up to the cowboy hat. He said, "Wow! Are you a real cowboy?"
My dad chuckled. He said, "Well, not really. But I reckon I can keep the cows moving till one comes along."
Actually, he was a real cowboy. To this day, he has the scars and broken bones to prove it. He wasn't always lucky enough to have a crew of real cowhands, though. Sometimes he had to make do with the help at hand: his four daughters.
We didn’t always do things exactly in the proper cowboy way. It’s hard to wrestle a calf to the ground with flair and style when it weighs more than you do; we had to gang up on them. But we could help sort calves and keep the cows moving through the chute. My youngest sister could keep an accurate tally in a notebook when she was just barely old enough to read. And we were good at rounding up the cattle and bringing them in from the pasture. We knew that real cowboying was often done at a walk, not the dramatic galloping seen in the movies. We knew how to keep the cows moving in the direction they were supposed to go.
True, we were just kids. But we were willing, eager, and enthusiastic because we didn't see working cattle as a chore. We though it was fun. We did it strictly as an amateur production, with more enthusiasm than expertise and a lot of on-the-job training.
Which, if you think about it, is also true of a lot of the stuff we do in our lives. Like growing up. Getting jobs. Getting married. Having kids. We go through all sorts of unexpected trials and adventures, joys and losses.
We’re amateurs at all of it. Nobody is handing out instruction manuals. About the time we think we have life figured out, something new pops up, and we're back at the beginning again, without a clue.
I used to believe a time would come when I would become a real, certified grownup. After that, I imagined, I would have all the answers and know exactly what to do.
Fat chance. I'm still waiting. What I've finally figured out, though, is that being a real grownup doesn't mean having all the answers. It doesn't even mean knowing all the questions. It just means being willing to proceed with the task at hand anyway.
It means you don't wait around for the "real" cowboys” to show up. You just keep the cows moving. And if you're really lucky, you think it's fun.