This comes up a lot among my friends and acquaintances. My sister likes to point out that an adult uses the term “adult,” while I make myself sound like a child calling them (us) “grownups.”
A few years back I was at the playground with my 2-year-old son. A bunch of teenagers were wilding there — really, more like milding — standing on swings, doing crazy flips and exercises on the jungle gym, and swearing like the merchant seaman I knew who wallpapered his bathroom with a porn magazine collage.
Didn’t bother me, didn’t bother my son. Then some lady comes up and says, “You guys shouldn’t talk like that. There are little kids around.”
As I watched the wordless shrugs and face-saving eyerolls, I felt them in my body, and I thought, “Why does that lady think she can talk to us like that?”
I still feel like one of the young ones, the youths who get approached by adults who believe deeply in their role as cops of the world, those who don’t bother thinking about effectiveness over righteousness. Is that what it means to feel grown up?
And how do we know what it feels like to feel grown up, or not? We look at people who are older than us, those who seem to have taken responsibility for their lives. They have jobs, pay taxes, go on vacation, talk about mortgages… Is that what it means to feel grown up?
I do all those things. I also spend a disproportionate amount of time hunting down rules to follow so I don’t get in trouble. When S. and I were preparing to take a carload to the dump, I looked online and read all the guidelines and became convinced that there was garbage we just wouldn’t be able to throw away. He talked me into taking it all, and we threw everything over the walls where it needed to go, and I walked away feeling 15 years lighter.
I was doing all this careful research under the name of acting responsibly (i.e., like a grownup) but in reality SO I WOULDN’T GET CAUGHT.
When I was 20 years old, living at home in my parents’ basement, having dropped out of college and working two jobs, I selected the Comet Tavern (“Damn, I loves you people!”) as my drinking spot. While I was perfectly comfortable drinking booze and had been for around 5 years (gin and tonics make me feel 15 all over again…), I didn’t want to get carded at the place I was planning to make my own, my Cheers, my third place. I was already grown up enough to drink, I just DIDN’T WANT TO GET CAUGHT and thrown out of a bar — because the last thing I didn’t was to feel like a little kid.
Between me and S., we’ve had 3 parents die. There aren’t that many grownups left on the conveyer belt between us and the abyss, and we have nobody but each other to tuck us in at night, nobody else we tell our bad dreams to.
So what does it mean to feel grown up? What is it I’m expecting?
The odd thing isn’t that I don’t feel grown up, or that the old people I know — ahem, oldER people — don’t. The odd thing is that we expect some feeling to come in and replace how we have always felt since we were born.
I have been inside this head since before I can remember, and I have always felt like me. There is no dividing line between me now and me at 3, when I became too big for “uppies.” Or me at 4, when I learned that my dad wasn’t going to live with me any more. Or me at 9, when instead of joining in family discussions about moving from West Lafayette, Indiana, from Seattle, Washington, I sat in a high-backed desk chair and rotated away from my mom.
Not wanting to face painful truths: is that what it’s like not to feel grown up?
When I am the only responsible grown-up on site, when I have to deal with an intimidating bureaucracy or a family member’s health crisis or mailing in correctly filled out documents, I don’t feel any more grown up than on my first day of school every year or when I ask for help at an information desk.
Through life I move from one thing to another, and some things get easier (asking strangers for help) while others get harder (amusing myself on a playground).
Today, after I have my snack and my nap, I’m going to take a walk all by myself. I feel pretty good about the whole thing, and not at all like a grownup is supposed to feel.
Do you ever feel grown up?