On Growing Up
Some people never want to grow up.
Many people see growing up as grim necessity.
And a few – but not many -- think the whole growing up deal is pretty good.
That’s what I learned when I asked fans of my Facebook page to complete the following: You’re not really a grown-up until….
There were 33 responses, which makes this a valid scientific survey offering insight into the state of contemporary society. I know this to be true because I live in a university town and can plot coordinates on a graph, not that I have any intention of doing so. Also, it’s the only survey I got, so I am going to draw provocative conclusions in hopes that I will get media attention and eventually major funding from some nonprofit that also gives to NPR.
The No. 1 reason people offer for being happy about growing up is that they no longer feel bad when they act like kids. Grown-ups, for example, don’t feel stupid when they tell bad jokes. Likewise, grown-ups can eat candy for breakfast.
This would seem to fly in the face of the well-known lyric from “Peter Pan,” wherein Peter worries that growing up “means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree.” A real grown-up, according to this model, climbs a tree any old time he feels like it.
Sadly, this is a minority view. For most people, the life of the grown-up is a hard life.
Several people saw growing up in terms of enduring. This could be personal tragedy (undefined), the death of parents, or a child’s trip abroad.
The most common response had to do with taking responsibility: for making your bed, taking care of an animal or child, paying student loans or a cell phone bill, cleaning up your own messes, confronting crises without whining, carrying Band Aids, or putting a coaster under your glass. My own responses came under this heading. A grown-up makes her own bed and a grown-up flosses her teeth. Any of these could also be framed, I think, as heeding the internalized voice of whoever it was that raised you.
A slightly more positive spin came from those who noted the grown-up’s changed taste in material goods. What makes a grown-up happy? Buying a new vacuum cleaner or washer and dryer.
For a couple of moms, being a grown-up means facing with equanimity the disgusting, such as a child handing you his chewed gum, or throwing up in your bed.
And several people saw growing up strictly in terms of perception. A grown up thinks following Peter Pan is a bad idea. A grown up does not believe in magic. A grown up is anyone who identifies as one. Similarly, the day you realize you sound like your parents, are grateful to your parents, or carry a plastic rain-bonnet the way your grandmother did – that’s the day you officially grow up.
Three people said they hadn’t grown up yet, and at least one – like Peter Pan -- didn’t plan to. Ironically, Peter sings “I Won’t Grow Up” as a lesson for his followers, the lost boys. According to the lyrics, growing up means “I must prepare to shoulder burdens with a worried air.”
In other words, grown-ups not only have work to do, they also have to stress out about it!
It’s enough to make you wonder what ideas about adulthood we’re projecting on our kids. Maybe we’re all just a little too gloomy. Maybe we should be buying more sweepers and washer-dryers to cheer ourselves up.
Finally, one respondent saw growing up as realizing you’re as competent as you’re ever going to be. This response is simultaneously bracing – go for it! -- and terrifying. What if as competent as you’re ever going to be isn’t very?
In the 1960s there was a commercial for a headache pill in which an adult daughter snaps, “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself.” I'd say that about sums it up. For most people, growing up means letting go of the idea that someone else -- your mother, a genie, a handsome prince – is going to rescue you and clean up the mess. Growing up means self-reliance. Oh, and it also means headaches.