all of the selves we Have ever been
On Becoming a Grown-Up
A friend and I chuckle
about a son’s comment that “adulting is hard.”
Our young 20-something children are surprised by the daily demands of adult life: When must you go to the doctor, and when can you wait it out? How do you handle health insurance claims, purchase a car, come up with rent and a security deposit, file an income tax return? My friend and I know that the list is endless.
We begin “adulting,”or trying on adulthood even as preschoolers during dress-up play. We put on dad’s shoes trying to understand how it feels to be him. We carry mom’s briefcase around emulating her dress and behavior. But when do we really become grown-ups? Where is the line in the sand? Is it when we turn 18? 21? After we have voted in our first election? Upon graduation from high school? College? After we get “a real job?”
I think about my years in graduate school. Legally, I was an “adult.” I made my own medical appointments and took care of my own health insurance. I purchased a car and paid my own rent, filed my own income taxes. Was I really an adult?
During those years in graduate school, I had a very close friend named Will. Will’s wife became pregnant during our second year in the program. We were all broke and exhausted from full time coursework, internships, and jobs that did not pay well. We didn’t have much, but we had each other. Life was fueled by cheap coffee and wonderful camaraderie. We focused on survival and hanging out with our friends.
The day Will’s daughter was born, Will called me with the news. Will described the childbirth experience from a new father’s point of view: “Something remarkable happened,” he said. “The instant she was born, everything mattered. Just like that, I cared about HIV, toxic waste, and the Cold War. Everything mattered because of her.”
Abracadabra! It had happened. The news was much bigger than just another birthday. Suddenly we were no longer carefree graduate students with our little problems. What happened in the world mattered to us now because someone small and vulnerable mattered even more.
As children, we were shielded from the terrifying realities of the world. We did not have the knowledge, wisdom or insight to worry about toxic waste, the Cold War or HIV. We felt secure in our nests surrounded by adults who seemed so powerful to us. We trusted that the world was in good hands.
Sometimes having a child can shake us out of complacency or bring us into the realities of adulthood. It does not work for everyone. And it is not necessary to have a child to become aware that we are now responsible for what happens in the world.
Perhaps, there is no particular age at which we make the giant leap over that line in the sand. We become grown-ups at the moment when the issues of the day begin to matter, when we can no longer look away or look toward someone else for all the answers. We become grown-ups when we feel the weight of the future and acknowledge that it is now in our hands. And then we make a deliberate commitment to care. Our kids are correct. Adulting is hard!
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