Hey, remember when we were kids and we knew everything? We sat there hating and envying the grownups, rolling our eyes at their collective lameness but coveting the fruits of adulthood: wealth! independence! possessions! unlimited pleasures of the flesh! stocked liquor cabinets! The bitterest pill to swallow was how our parents, teachers, and leaders seemed to be squandering their age-earned treasures. When our time came, we would not be so pathetic.
Wow. Who knew adulthood would actually be such a bitch slap? Now, with the benefit of hindsight and the baggage of years, I offer this list of Five Things About Adulthood We All Knew As Kids, But Which Turned Out To Be Total Shite:
1. No one tells grownups what to do. Ha! One of adulthood’s first and harshest revelations is the fact that you will still answer to people; bosses, mostly, but also spouses, law enforcement, the government, your children—and above all, yourself. God might forgive absolutely and kharma might ensure balance in the universe, but the human conscience can be a brutal judge. Being your own boss is a never-ending—and thankless—job. And believe it or not, some days you’re grateful that someone else is in charge just so you don’t have the weight of responsibility on your weary shoulders.
2. Adulthood comes with a renewable cash bonus. Oh, how we kids hated asking our parents for money. The only thing worse was doing chores to earn money. And even though our parents swore they had to work hard for their money, that they weren’t made of money, and that money didn’t grow on trees, we knew they were lying. Money was plentiful in the world of grownups, even if they were too stupid to spend it on anything cool. But to an adult, payday is like Thanksgiving day, and money is like Thanksgiving dinner. You live in its anticipation, work hard to make it happen, enjoy its bounty, but all too soon—sometimes within just a few hours—it’s nothing more than a pleasant memory. As host, you make sure everyone else is served first, and being founder of the feast doesn’t guarantee you the drumstick or even that there will still be leftovers by the time you go back later for a much deserved snack. But ah, well—there’s always nextThanksgiving.
3. OMG— CARS! Every kid knows that owning a car is the source of everything great and magical about adulthood. Freedom! Independence! Status! Sex! Adventures! Car, car, car, car, CAR! And while that’s not all untrue, grownups have a love-hate relationship with their cars. Our cars can be the source of both pleasure and pride, but also are bottomless money pits and indestructible time vampires. Every benefit of car ownership is complicated by a curse: insurance, increasing gas prices, constant repairs, monthly payments. No wonder a carload of teenagers is a carload of grinning teenagers; it’s likely they’re all buddies driving to a party, concert, movie, game, or other social event in a car that’s been provided and maintained by parents. Many grownups will fantasize about a dream car, or have especially fond memories of a particular car, or work diligently to restore a classic car. But one of adulthood’s saddest rites of passage is coming to the realization that a car is less magic carpet and more necessary evil.
4. Once you become an adult, your best years are behind you. Americans prize youth and attractiveness the way some cultures value age and wisdom. Don’t believe me? Just look here: http://gnovisjournal.org/files/Kathy-Bayer-Anti-Aging-Trend.pdf So even though kids envy the money, cars, freedom, and self-determination they anticipate with adulthood, many of them firmly believe their best will be left behind with their teenage years. And if the criteria are beauty and vigor, it’s hard to prove them wrong. What are the young if not attractive and full of life? But growing older has its benefits, too—things that can ONLY come with growing older: decades of memories, travel opportunities, career satisfaction, buying power, parenthood, popular culture, relationships both found and lost…The average life expectancy for Americans is 78; how sad would it be if we really did peak at 20?
5. Grownups know what they’re doing. Here, I’ll draw from personal experience. When I was a girl, I absolutely believed the adults around me knew what they were doing. Not only did I believe it was true, I deeply trusted them to know what they were doing, since they were in charge of everything. I watched, I listened, I tried to learn, because one day it would be my turn to be in charge—and I’d need to be prepared. Well I’ve been an adult for a long time now, and I feel I can speak for my people when I say we most certainly do not know what we’re doing. For years I’ve been waiting for the clarity and authority with which my elders seemed to approach their daily tasks and responsibilities, and I’m waiting still. My own mother—a woman whom I regard as no less than heroically capable—admitted she has spent most of her 78 years making it up as she goes along. My mother! The most influential female in my life, the person who bore and raised me, has been winging it! As have I. As has every single adult I’ve ever known. During our youth we think we’ll have everything figured out by the time we reach our big turn at bat, but the truth is we’re all just making it up as we go along. Each day is a fresh, new opportunity for triumph; each day is equally destined to end in disaster. Here I’ll quote lyrics by Bruce Hornsby in his song Jacob’s Ladder: All I want from tomorrow is to get it better than today.
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When my nephew graduated from high school, I noticed the look on my brother’s face: equal parts pride and concern. I asked what he was thinking at that moment, and he replied, “Look at these kids—like cattle to the slaughter. Off they go, with no idea what’s about to happen to them.” That seems to be Nature’s plan; if any of us really knew what adulthood had in store, would we have been in such a hurry to get there?