They Grow up so Fast

Today’s post was supposed to be about The Social Experiment for Humanity. I wrote the entire post out, but my computer decided to shut down before I had a chance to publish it, so it wasn’t saved. I’m still a little bitter about it, so I’ll save that topic for the next round. Anyway, I was meditating on another topic today, which just so happened to be ‘growing up.’

When do you grow up? What does growing up even mean? Is it that non-eventful time in everyone’s life where the crossover between optimistic youth and settled adulthood happens? For some, growing up is a sudden event, something traumatizing enough to rip the remnants of swaddling cloth from their skin, thrusting them into the cold world of adulthood. For others, it’s as slow and steady as growing out of your kid clothes (when did these jeans stop fitting?) and buying the next size up because that’s just how it goes. Maybe you just wake up one day, a 40-something mother of three with a full time job and think, when did I stop being young? There should be a medal, or an achievement, a trophy, something that says “Hey! You’re an adult now! No looking back!” to tell us when it’s time to start acting our age. We could join a special club (no kids allowed) that would hold seminars on how to dress, act, think, and feel like we’re old(er). Where someone dressed in the latest adult couture could tell us what to do when some newfangled adult thing happens, and we still feel too young to know how to adapt.

When you’re young, you wish so hard that you could just grow up. You wanted to do adult things, like carry a suitcase around like Dad or wear heels and lipstick like Mom. You wanted to be in charge of the radio station on family car trips, and you wanted to buy however much candy you wanted, without Mom telling you ‘no.’ You wanted to stay up late, have as many sleepovers as you wanted, and eat cake for dinner. To children, being “grown up” means doing all of the things that you can’t do because you’re too little, too young to ‘know’ what things mean, or just because your parents stop you. Adulthood means freedom to do as you please, without restriction. When I was younger, my grouchy old relatives, smelling of old spice, smoke, and some sort of bathroom refresher, would look down at me with a disapproving twist hanging at the end of their downturned mouth and say, “stop trying to grow up so fast. One day you’ll miss being a kid.” Adults and relatives that I didn’t really care to know would stop me at funerals and family gatherings, preaching about the wonders of childhood. I couldn’t get through a family event without hearing something about it. And then, seemingly all at once, nobody told me that anymore. Did I grow up then?

Adolescents and preteens have shed the rainbows and butterflies optimism that young children have, but they still see adulthood as generally desirable. Not like Mom and Dad adulthood, but high school or college aged adults. Picking your own classes, dating whomever whenever, drinking soda(pop!) late into the night, and having a cell phone. It would seem that adolescents still want the freedom, but acknowledge that responsibility and old age suck. Give me the perks without the work. I think preteens are the age that the elderly rag on. The uncommitted, irresponsible, reckless kids that should be starting to look for jobs or do something more constructive with their lives. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes a serious question, and people expect serious answers, like you’re supposed to grow up tomorrow. Have it all planned out. Adulthood is responsibility, and committing to some sort of lifestyle that you probably don’t want. Working, getting old, losing your hair, teeth, and anything else on the human body that seems disposable. Like you weren’t self conscious enough about your awkward, lanky teen self, every relative from here to China is expecting you to have a plan. They ask you and ask you and ask you, like it’s a mantra of old age. Every birthday party I went to, card I received, or little note on a gift would say something about how I could “use this when you get older” or “put this toward college.” And then, seemingly all at once, they stopped saying those things. Birthday parties were less, cards were occasional, and gifts were less of a thing. Maybe that’s when I grew up.

I moved 7 hours away from home to a different state to pursue that life plan that everyone had asked me to conjure up when I was younger. I went to college, held a few jobs at a time, and had a whole lot of freedom. I went where I wanted whenever I wanted (as long as I didn’t miss class, work, a meeting, event, or prior engagement. So never.) and had most of the freedom that I didn’t have living at home. I could decide whether or not to pick up my phone when my parents called, and I felt powerful knowing that their recommendation were just that; recommendations. My schedule. My plans. My decisions. My life.  Still, when we walked down the streets in our large groups, yelling and slurring and tripping like laws didn’t exist, people looked at us like we had some growing up to do. Even though we felt like adults, away from home and making our own choices, we were still kids in the eyes of the Outside World. College isn’t reality. And then, all at once, people stopped looking at us like that. We blended into society, us 21 and ups. We worked, toiled, and had something to show for it. Am I grown up?

I work full time, sleep when I can, and see friends every once in a while. I live in an apartment, and get giddy when things go on sale because I am now very money conscious. I have a wonderful boyfriend of over 2 years, and we have a cat. I have a car, a bank account, work history, and a slew of references that I keep on tab for job applications. I have several drafts of resume’, and I think it’s important to be polite and respectful at all times. I can see where my life is going, but I still welcome adventure. I think I’m pretty grown up, yet, I’ll go to the doctor and ramble off my novel of a medical history, and the nurses will say “wow, you’re too young to have all of these problems.”  There it is again. That word that I fought so hard to put in my past. Then again, when is it finally ‘okay’ to have problems? When are we just the right age to deserve the problems we have? When we sit back and acknowledge, “yes, yes. These problems are meant to happen. I’m old enough to have them,” are we adults then? No one is here to tell you when you are grown up, because no one has grown up yet.

You’re responsible, mature, and understand the human dynamic well enough to know how to move and shake based on who you’re dealing with. You’ve been through a lot, but you have a long way to go. And you know what? You’re still a kid. You’ll always be a kid. Until you’ve found everything there is to find, dreamed every dream, learned every word and subject and song and trick, you’ll be a kid. Until you’ve cried every tear, shaken every hand, eaten every food, and find that you’re so full of experience that you have no appetite for adventure, you’re just a child. As long as you laugh, smile, feel bursts of joy for no reason, but always find at least ten reasons to continue on into tomorrow, you’re lucky enough to be a kid. You’ll grow old and grow big, but no, you’ll never grow up. Your soul will always find a way to stay young. Love will keep you young. So here you are, ready to take on the world, carrying a briefcase like Dad and wearing heels and lipstick like Mom. Even at the end of the last day of being an adult, you’ll always be happily young at heart.

Whenever I talk to the More Love Letters team, I’m always reminded of how much of a kid I am. Sure, we all do adult things, live our adult lives, but who says we have to grow up? Love keeps you young, and we have so much love for the world, that I truly believe we will be young forever. And you know what? Hold onto that feeling of being a kid, because someday, when you’re all grown up, you’ll miss it.

With love and love letters,

J

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