I am all too aware that my babies are quickly growing up into little kids (see Growing Pains). It seems like almost every day they can do something new, and they are increasingly asserting themselves as independent people (which terrifies me). I spend far less time considering my own growth. While it is easy to note a child’s progress from sitting, to scooting, to crawling, to walking, non-physical growth is often only apparent in retrospect. It has been one year since I had a major growth spurt, and only with the perspective of time am I able to fully appreciate it.
Some people spend their entire lives resisting being “grown up.” You know the type – pursuing far-fetched schemes and dreams, living like there’s no tomorrow, shirking major responsibilities and anything that might tie them down. Other people are forced to grow up as young children. Overall, our generation (the Millennials) seems to be postponing adulthood as long as possible. We move from place to place, travel widely and sometimes recklessly, stay in school longer than our parents, get married later, and seek to “follow our dreams” instead of simply making a living. All of this has contributed to a prolonged youth, and a bit of a stigma around “adulthood.”
Although the anecdotal evidence for this trend is apparent among my friends and colleagues, this phenomenon has been well-documented empirically as well. By the typical standards of adulthood – finishing school, leaving home, getting married, having a child, and achieving financial independence – it is clear that our generation is moving more slowly than our parents. In 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men had reached those markers by age 30; in 2000, only 46% of women and 31% of men had hit those milestones by that age. Many of my friends will readily admit that they don’t feel “grown up” even after achieving the typical marks of adulthood somewhat later in life.
After getting married in two delightfully childish celebrations (on a game farm in South Africa and yacht in D.C.) and then giving birth to an adorable accessory who my husband and I toted around with us, I began to wonder if adulthood was a myth. Perhaps the idea that at some point every human becomes “grown up” is just a fiction perpetuated by parents and teachers trying to draw some distinction between themselves and the children they seek to influence. My favorite childhood teacher was twenty-six when I had her for fourth grade. When we’d meet for lunch in the years to follow, I always felt very proud to be socializing like a grown-up, even though in retrospect I am sure she felt she was masquerading as an adult almost as much as I was.
Then it hit me. Adulthood. It didn’t happen overnight, but over a stressful four-month period from April to July last year when I had a second child, bought my first car, shopped for and purchased my first home, and moved to the suburbs. To drive home the fact that my youth was behind me, I came down with shingles, the adult form of chicken pox. None of these changes, standing alone, was what made me feel that I had become a grown up. Rather, it was the shift in identity caused by the transformation from mother to mother-to-two; from pedestrian urbanite to mini-van suburbanite; from always-on-the-go to take-it-slow. I distinctly recall visiting an open house one Sunday and thinking, “these people must wonder how a young girl like me could be buying a house.” As I caught a glimpse of myself in the house’s closet mirror, however, I did a double take. The modestly-dressed, baby-wearing woman staring back at me looked just like the other people visiting the open house. Other people who, in my view, were clearly “adults.” I was, literally, face to face with my adult self, and there was no turning back.
Of course, I will continue to have childish moments (like calling my mom when I get hurt or riding a roller coaster with my son) and hope to remain young at heart for the rest of my life. But as I look back at the past year, it is very clear to me that last spring was not just the start of a new chapter, but a new book. Owning a house and a car has meant far less discretionary income, so I have to budget in a way I never have before. Being far away from our friends means we need to make plans well in advance and limits spontaneous activities. Having two toddlers means I need to attend more to their social and developmental needs before my own, so instead of bringing them along to baseball games and happy hours, I am more likely to be tagging along to their playdates and music classes.
I am not complaining; this is the happiest I have ever been. Rather, I am acknowledging that, as evidenced by and/or as a result of the major changes in my life last spring (I’m not sure of the casual relationship and may never know), I have changed.
I have made no secret about the fact that I was deeply conflicted about the unplanned purchase of a car and house and move to the suburbs last spring. In retrospect, however, that resistance was reflective of the growing pains inherent in (somewhat belatedly) accepting my own adulthood. There are many aspects of being a grown up that I am still working out, and I am sure it will be a lifelong work in progress. Over the past year, however, I have come to terms with my new reality and am doing my best to embrace it. I hope to be the kind of adult that my children can look up to and will want to grow into someday. Just not too soon!