I have been a child all my life -- but in the past 10 days, I have gained two children: a niece and a godson, equally precious and terrifying. By the sucking of their thumbs, something startling this way come: my adulthood. They are my heirs, to that most peculiary legacy, my self. On their occasion, I have been taking stock:

I've forgotten how to whistle through my fist. I am only just learning to toss M&Ms into the air and catch them in my mouth, and I never could meditate in a lotus position because my legs go to sleep.

I slouch when I sit. I eat standing up, although it drives my father crazy. I make too many faces (I'm getting laugh lines already) and I grind my teeth in rhythm to favorite records in my mind.

I have the temper of a troll. I've tried counting to 10, but I'm usually through yelling by then.I apologize a lot. I can say I'm sorry in five languages.

My bagels never come out quite the right shape. I look terrible in chartreuse. I chew my lip. Every once in a while I draw on myself with lipstick.

I have a horror of spilling martinis. I think it goes back to when I was about 8, running to keep up with my parents at the steeplechase, and I dropped the Thermos and it shattered on the inside and my parents had to make do with mint juleps, which my father thinks are abominable.

I can't cook an entire meal without dicing a little thumbnail into the onions. When I was little I used to wear my hair very long and once or twice a week when I was heating the Franco-American spaghetti, I'd trail a little hair through the gas flame and stink up the kitchen. A couple of years ago I kept trying to pull the cornbread skillet out of a 425-degree oven by the handle, so I gave up cornbread.

I hate New Year's. Making resolutions in public is embarrassing, like having to pull up your socks at the dinner table. Black-eyed peas make me sick, anyway. I like Valentine's and St. Patrick's okay, but I'd rather they didn't dye the beer green. I used to take communion on Easter with my fingers crossed because I loved the wine at the big Episcopal church uptown. Mother's favorite speech was "as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end amen," so I memorized it.

I'm accident-prone. have little or no discipline, tact, thrift, or no discipline, tact, thrift patience, reverence, restraint or respect for tradition (it's hard to be a Southern half-Jewish half-Christian Scientist agnostic). I haven't written a poem in a couple of years.

On the other hand:

I don't take myself seriously.

I can handle waiters. If the Norse are right, and the afterlife is just one big dining hall, I'll be set.

I've never met a dog I didn't like. My cat comes when I call and streches up when he wants to be carried. There's a racoon living in my attic and a kitten outside the Szechuan restaurant who cries when I sit on the steps.

I wrap presents like an expert. I used to make money at Christmas that way. I have finally learned how to fold sweaters so they lie flat in the suitcase.

I don't drink martinis anyway. I prefer gimlets, and I'm very careful. I can open champagne quietly, and use a real waiter's corkscrew on wine. I read fast, and I can spell, and my older brother can't.

I can paint my face all over without getting sick. Last Halloween I was Kiss's Gene Simmons and I even painted my lips black.

I own 13 pairs of striped, shaded, shimmering and solid purple socks. I can tie a bow and a four-in-hand, even on somebody else. I'm good at poker and fair at backgammon. I play "Name That Tune" with the radio.

I can recite the kings of England from the Norman Conquest to the Hanovers, Henry VIII's wives and Elizabeth Taylor's husbands. I know the difference between bourbon and sour mash whiskey. I can tell butter from margarine and Coca-Cola from Pepsi.

I don't scare easily. I don't believe in est or electric woks. I don't watch "Good Morning, America" or "Saturday Night Live." I name my cats after Hammett characters and my plants after poets.

Nobody says, "I want little Zub-Zub to grow up just like you." Nobody's ever wanted anybody to grow up just like me.

But my father says I'm not as much trouble as I could be, and anyway he never had any illusions about my behaving very well.