Lots of people dread growing up. Becoming an “adult”, however you may want to define that term. Even if it doesn’t go so far as to be a true Peter Pan complex, it’s something that many people view with a sort of dread, an impending inevitability that will erase their “true” selves and remake them into boring fat zombies, who shuffle listlessly from soul-crushing job to impoverishing mortgage to exhausted parent to silent grave.
I was never that way. Being an adult meant being in power, and I wanted that more than anything. Children don’t get listened to, don’t get taken seriously, and don’t get a say in their own lives, for the most part. Even if you have good parents, who do actually respect you as an individual, with feelings and opinions separate from their own (most of mine were, and did), you’re still systematically corralled and subjected to an endless array of “should” and “must” and “for kids”. Which I’m not necessarily saying is all bad- we should not put a 9 year old in the Oval Office, I agree- but what I am saying is that to me, growing up always represented the freedom of getting a say in my own life, and I waited for it eagerly. If I had to deal with bills and insurance in exchange for that freedom? Oh, well. Still worth it.
And, as a 30 year old, I stand by that. I wouldn’t trade being an adult for being a kid again even on my worst day. I call the shots, and that’s worth more to me than any coddling or lack of responsibility. However, there are definitely a few things that I wish had been made more clear to me when I was younger. I feel like we see lists of these sometimes; things like “I wish I’d known I’d have to set my own bedtime!” or “I wish I’d known how to budget!” or whatever. Those are not what I’m talking about- I knew those things. (Whether or not I did them is a different question, but I certainly knew about them.)
So, I’ve made my own list.
Things I Wish I’d Been Told About Being An Adult Before I Became One
1) War is a thing you just have to adjust to
9/11 happened just over a week after I turned 18, and we’ve been at war ever since, ie: my whole adult life. I have not been personally affected by it in the ways that some folks have- my father-in-law has been deployed a couple of times, but he’s always come back. I have not had to send a sibling or spouse or close friend off, only to lose them. But there is an exhaustion that comes with hearing, endlessly, about the latest bombing raids, or terrorist attacks, or incursions, or fatalities. After nearly 13 years of distant but endless violence, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an adult in peacetime.
And this is not just my generation- I guess Gen X mostly got away with not much war until they were older, but the Boomers had Vietnam and the horror which that mess engendered. The Greatest Generation of course had WWII, and the generation before them had WWI. It seems like, for Americans, war is an accepted part of adulthood, but it’s not talked about or acknowledged as a thing that will affect you. I suppose ours have dragged on longer than previous generations, but I feel that’s balanced by the lack of immediate impact (for most). But still- a little warning that you will always be part of a nation at war, and it’s likely to stress you out, would have been nice.
2) Deciding when to put a pet to sleep is a really hard and painful decision
As a kid, I’d had pets die, and it was no picnic. It’s sad, and you miss them, but with most of them, you know that you gave them a good life, and they’ve lived a decently long time, and it’s time for them to go. If they have to be put to sleep, usually it’s a parent’s decision, and you are spared the agonizing over whether it’s time or not.
But when you’re in charge, this falls to you. Deciding when our little handicapped kitty was no longer living a quality of life that was worth living was heartbreaking and difficult. He’d been handicapped all of his little life, so he didn’t really seem to notice it in the way that older animals who are declining can be aware that they’re no longer able to do things they used to. He didn’t seem to be in much (if any pain). He was a sweet, loving, happy, enthusiastic cat, who just slowly got less and less able to walk and see.
How do you know when it’s not enough that he can be held and petted and purr? He could still eat and drink. He could still use the litter box, with assistance. How do you not blame yourself, when, if you didn’t have to be away from the house 11 hours a day, you could have cared for him longer, let him live another few months? What gives you the right to decide to inject his little body with poison that will stop his heart and breath? It’s been a year, and I still don’t know. I don’t know that I could have made the decision any differently, but it still haunts me that I might have done it wrong.
(I’m sure this is about a million times worse when it becomes your parents, which, thank heaven I’m not there yet. But I’m aware it exists, waiting for me.)
3) Bad things will happen to you
When you’re a kid, if you’re lucky, there aren’t a lot of the large sort of Life Events. Your grandparents might die, and maybe you have to move, or maybe your parents separate. None of those are fun, to be sure. But they also happen more around you- you’re not the decision maker, you’re not the funeral planner, you’re not the one trying to figure out whether accepting the new job two states over is worth uprooting your whole family. And for some of us, childhood is truly uneventful- the worst happenings are school drama, or teenaged fights with your family.
When you’re an adult, the law of averages catches up with you. You’ll be in a car accident, or your partner will. Your parents will die. Maybe your siblings. You’ll get fired, or laid off. When your house is robbed, you’ll be the one calling the police and the insurance company, and trying to get your landlord to fix the broken door. When your car is backed into by some asshole who can’t parallel park, you’re the one coughing up the $500 deductible to get the door replaced.
I think we are often good about talking about the daily grind of adulthood, the bills you’ll have to pay, and the job you’ll have to go to. But we don’t talk about “how to take your friend to the hospital when she’s having a miscarriage”, or “keep an inventory of your possessions so you can have them valued when they’re stolen”. There are too many things that could go wrong, too many things that are big and unknowable, and we just don’t even want to think about it.
4) People close to you will make bad decisions
Say you’re doing pretty well at this whole adulthood thing. You got a job, you pay your rent, you stay in touch with your family. You make sure you’re insured, and you might even get promoted. That’s great! Good for you! …but you know who’s not doing that? Your best friend. Yeah, him. He’s couch surfing and can’t keep a job longer than a couple months. He’s also completely in denial, or maybe doesn’t care, because he’s not ready to grow up, he’s too young for that adult bullshit! And remember your roommate you were so close to all through college? Yeah, she’s a single mother now on WIC, and she smokes a pack a day, and pregnant again with a kid whose father is unknown.
Watching people you care about make terrible decisions is not really something that comes up as a kid, unless you have parents or significantly older siblings who are fucking things up. And even then, it’s not your age-mates. But when you’re an adult, it’s inevitable. Someone you love, whose well-being is a concern for you, is going to do a bad job of handling their shit.
What can you do? Well, not much. You can try to be supportive. You can try to help them see where they’re running into problems. You can maybe use your own connections and resources to help them get a leg up. But the unfortunate truth is that most people don’t actually want help, and if they do, and they accept it, they’re still not very likely to change. Mostly, you’ll end up either watching them spiral down or continue in their unhappy life, or you’ll distance yourself and lose the friendship to preserve your own heart and head.
5) The people in charge who are doing shitty things are your peers
The thing about being a kid is that you’re not really in charge of much, so there’s not a lot you can fuck up. Some kids manage it, obviously, but it’s not common. But at some point, your generation grows up, and gets put in charge of things. Remember that asshole in junior high who used to bully you? Yeah, he’s now the coach of your kid’s little league team. And the weird little brother of your math class friend? He’s the one who took a gun to a public place and shot a bunch of people. That conservative cheerleader? She’s making the rounds of the talk shows as a serious anti-vaxxer.
I’m not old enough yet, but someday the PotUS will be the same age I am, or younger. Do I trust anyone I know who’s my age to hold that office? Well, out of the literally hundreds of people I know at least semi-well who are within a couple years of me, I can think of one. Maybe two, if we assume a good support team. So, that’s good odds, right?
People my age are now the cops mace-ing non-violent civilian protestors. They’re the paranoid home-owners shooting unarmed kids in the street. They’re rapists and murderers and extortionists and politicians. And of course these are the minority- the vast majority of my peers are perfectly nice people living perfectly fine lives. But it’s an adjustment to go from being at a point where pretty much the worst thing one of your classmates is going to do is maybe beat someone up after school to a point where one of your classmates is involved in a murder-suicide of themselves, their partner, and their children.
What would you add?
(This post brought to you by the situations in Ferguson, Iraq, Syria, and that Facebook crawl I went on late Saturday night. *sigh*)