on being an adult

Today for breakfast I wanted a Diet Pepsi and a Twix bar. Instead, I had a bowl of Kashi with soy milk. And some Diet Pepsi, because I am not made of stone. Though I am made of caffeine, and need to keep the levels up. And as I was sitting at the table, dipping my spoon into my bowl and going nom nom nom, I remembered that when I grew up, I was going to have ice cream at every meal. I’d have ice cream for breakfast and ice cream for lunch and ice cream for dinner. I would have ice cream for between-meal snacks. I would take ice cream baths and bed down in sundae bowls and my entire life, when I was an adult, would be perfect because it would be all about ice cream.

This is pretty standard for kids, isn’t it? The just you wait until I am an adult, and I can do anything I want at any time, and I’m going to be so happy! Being an adult is going to rule! And for the most part, being an adult really does rule, doesn’t it? Some people I know, they miss being kids. Idealized childhood meant having no responsibilities, belonging to someone in that very specific way a child belongs to a caregiver, so that all your needs are met and sometimes, if you’re lucky, exceeded. The daily unconditional love that never felt like it needed to be earned.  Allowance in exchange for bed-making. And your entire life, when you were a kid, was perfect.

If I had a choice, I’d stay an adult, despite the fact that the ice
cream orgy has not occurred as scheduled. Despite the fact that the
idea of having ice cream every day all day for the whole rest of my
life is much more complicated than it was supposed to be. It wasn’t
supposed to be complicated at all. Once you were free of your parents,
you were free of all restrictions. You stepped right inside the
free-for-all arena that is adulthood, where everything goes around and
then comes back around again, over and over and over again.

What a shock, to learn that there are restrictions, and they’re not all
external. It’s not just the rules of adult society, the rules that say
you get up and go to work every morning and you pay your bills and you
obey the laws and you conform to social mores. They’re all far more
powerful forces than we could have imagined, of course, and more
parental than we perhaps enjoy, sometimes. But the majority of the
restrictions are internal, aren’t they? The majority of what keeps you
in line, on the straight and narrow, out of ice cream alley is the way
that being an adult means you…act like an adult. You take
responsibility for your health and your well-being. You know that ice
cream always is no way to live; staying up all night is totally awesome
except for when you have to go to work tomorrow; having a clean house
makes you weirdly, inexplicably happy.

This isn’t the way adulthood should be run. We saw grown-ups doing the
boring adult things, and we thought they were doing it wrong. They
weren’t taking advantage of their advantages. They were completely
nuts. And then we get grown-up, and it is, unexpectedly, the best thing
in the world, when you are responsible. When you are wise, when you
make the right decisions. When you take care of yourself and eat Kashi
for breakfast, when you exercise and floss and drink water and send
money to Planned Parenthood and you are a good person. There’s an
immense amount of satisfaction in that, which I overlook, too often.
When I let myself slide, when the slide goes from a little bit to a
lot, I forget the real pleasure that comes from doing the real,
important, grown-up, adult stuff. Which sometimes includes an ice cream

  7 comments for “on being an adult

  1. Liz
    August 21, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Great post. I love your writing style.

    I can’t quite remember at the moment any childhood fantasies I had about being an adult. I think deep down I knew I would have lots more responsibility, but with that responsibility would come immense freedoms, freedoms much larger than the minimal amount I did have as a child under my parents’ roof. Whereas your fantasies were as specific as ice-cream smorgasbords, mine were more general. “When I’m an adult,” I would often tell myself, “I won’t ever do what my parents do or parent my kids the way my parents do me.” Yet, now that I’m grown and have been out of the house in some way, shape or form for several years now, I realize more and more that the way they did things was pretty effective and efficient.

  2. mdw
    August 21, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Interesting post for sure!
    I remember when I was a kid, I was always, “OH I CAN’T WAIT to be an adult, so I can go to bed WHENEVER I want!!!!”. That thought made me giddy. To be able to make that kind of a decision for myslef.
    Funny thing is, when I got older, early bedtimes were no longer a cruel requirement, they were a welcome relief! LOL. Oh how things change

  3. M.
    August 21, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Ice cream? My when-I’m-a-grownup thing was eating ALL the crumbly stuff off the top of a coffee cake without eating the cake part. I never got around to it, although it’s pretty damn sweet being old enough to set bananas in butter and brown sugar on fire with rum… :)

    To quote the best gypsy punk band in the world, Gogol Bordello (from “Ultimate” on the album Super Taranta),

    “There was never any good old days
    They are today, they are tomorrow
    It’s a stupid thing we say
    Cursing tomorrow with sorrow…”

  4. Anonymous
    August 21, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    “Idealized childhood meant having no responsibilities, belonging to someone in that very specific way a child belongs to a caregiver, so that all your needs are met and sometimes, if you’re lucky, exceeded. The daily unconditional love that never felt like it needed to be earned. Allowance in exchange for bed-making. And your entire life, when you were a kid, was perfect.

    I don’t miss having that now, I missed having it then. My reality was far from the ideal existence you write of.
    Lots of responsibility–needs met, but not without contributions from me–no allowance, because chores were for the good of the family (pulling your weight)–if you wanted money, you had to get a job (my first was at age eight), and then you had to spend it on school supplies and clothes or put it in the bank anyway–all love was conditional, or felt that way. Which is the same thing when you are a kid. child: “Do you love me?”
    parent: “Did you brush your teeth?” (Make your bed, practice your piano, do your homework, do your laundry, do the dishes, sweep the patio, etc etc.)

    Well, I guess I didn’t have to deal with too much disapointment once I was grown.

  5. August 21, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I don’t remember any unfounded fantasies of adulthood I had as a kid. I was forced to grow up fast due to overbearing parents and a couple siblings more than ten years younger than me, so childhood was over by age 9. I couldn’t wait to get out of my parents’ house to have fewer responsibilities– turns out I was right, living alone and paying all your own bills (even working full-time plus college full-time!) is way easier than being forced to run a household for four younger siblings!

  6. August 21, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    You know, I’m an adult most of the the time, but today I had cookies for lunch! And that’s a good thing!

  7. August 22, 2008 at 8:40 am

    I love this post – it’s such a struggle, isn’t it, to be a grown-up and still retain some of your childishness, to remember that a clean room and an ice cream sundae both bring such extraordinary pleasure, that to be a good person, you need to be good to yourself in all those different ways?

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