Being an Adult
I’ve been ruminating on this for a few weeks now, but recently I’ve watched a close friend go through something crazy challenging and it’s just kind of hit me: I am an adult. I mean, pretty officially, I think. Don’t get me wrong, on some level, I’ve known this for quite some time. I’m in my early thirties. I’ve been with the same employer for nearly a decade. I’ve got two college degrees. I’m actively saving for retirement. I’ve purchased or refinanced four homes. Hell, I even have children. It’s hard to get more “adult” than the culmination of all of that.
Here’s the tricky part- it feels like it kind of snuck up on me. I’m hoping you can relate to this perspective. I’m thinking of this random childhood memory. I imagine that you, cherished reader, have a similar one. I’m around 12 years old. I’m with my very cool older cousin- she must have been all of 17. We are driving in her little sports car to run errands for her mom. She’s got the radio blaring and she is singing along. I can’t believe my luck in getting to spend the afternoon with her. Did I mention she’s way cool? This cousin is about 5 years older than me. She’s been that much older than me my entire life. When I was 12, 5 years was huge. Now? Now, she’s in her thirties, just like me, and I’m twice as old as she was in this memory I have. Dude! How did that happen?!
The crazy part of this I’m-not-sure-why-this-is-a-big-deal realization is that I guess I was half-expecting someone to officially “deem” me an adult. And, what about formal training for this? Did I sleep through that day at school? Or, why isn’t it like a job? You could expect to get some sort of feedback. Someone more experienced might pull you aside and say: “You’re doing really well with… You should make some goals around… I can provide you some additional support (more training, formal education, a mentor, additional resources).” Nope. Not how it works.
Just a couple of weeks ago my wife asked me what we should do with some extra income she earned. My options? Make an extra payment on the mortgage or put it towards some home repairs. It sounds boring when it’s on paper, but when she asked me it was sort of exciting. Oooh, the possibilities…
I feel like I’ve finally reached that point in my life that my mom always warned me about: “Someday you’ll understand… (why we have rules/why I’m so upset/the priorities of life/why moms cry, laugh, worry).” Know what I mean? I think I’m there. I totally understand all of those things.
When I was a teenager, I remember wishing so bad to be an adult. Back then the illusion of adulthood included staying up as late as I wanted (turns out that is usually about 10:00PM), watching whatever I wanted on TV (can I recommend “All About Cowboys?” or TOY STORY), spending my money on anything I want (a house, groceries, insurance, electricity, clothes for other people), and other misnomers. This is why my mom smiled when I said ridiculous things about how life would be so different/amazing/fun once I was an adult. She knew and she also understood that she couldn’t possibly explain it to me.
What is it that makes a person an adult? For many things in our society, we consider age to be the most significant factor. How important is age? I certainly don’t think it’s the end-all-be-all, but it plays a part. Just ask the 18 year old who committed a crime and is sitting with his “adult” sentence. Maybe it’s about a job or career? But, that doesn’t always neatly apply, either. When I was a “young-adult” (which is really just a nice way of real adults labeling the typical 18-23 year old who doesn’t know what he/she is in for), my very wise aunt and uncle told me that they would consider me an adult when I could financially support myself. By those standards, I reached adulthood by the time I was 21. Still, I think that’s a little misleading, too.
Here’s my attempt at defining it: you know you are an adult when no one is shielding you from the realities and harshness of life. Unfortunately, many among us meet this standard well before their 18th birthday. And, even more unfairly, it rarely has anything to do with their own life choices. Others might be much older before they lose protection from those “older” adults in their lives. And, this is no judgment. I know I’ve been luckier than many to have the love and support of important adults in my life.
This test certainly applies to the friend I mentioned at the beginning of the blog. She is dealing with something that is so tough it doesn’t quite seem fair. When I first learned of her recent challenge, I wondered who would be there to buoy her. I guess I was picturing parents or some other “adult” figure stepping in to sort through the details and make the big decisions. Then I realized- she’s the one that has to do the buoying and decision-making. She’s the adult. Damn. And, this is it. This is real life. No training wheels, no bumpers, no cushion. Just life- real and raw.
(To my dear friend, if you read this- please know that you are in my thoughts. You and your family are in the prayers of my family. We love you. We are here for you however you might need us. Your grace and courage continues to be inspiring.)