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Meditations on Adulthood

Adulthood is figuring out who you are, and then learning to integrate that self into society.

This summer, I spent two weeks with my family. The first two weeks after a year of adult independence. As I boarded my flight, my head was full of all the ways I was going to show them that I’d grown up, from making car payments to cooking for myself. I was going to walk in and blow the doors off the place with my confident self-sufficiency and unrelenting productivity.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really go according to plan.

It started almost as soon as I got home. I was tired, and wanted to sleep, but I needed to get sweats out of my bag. So I opened the bag, put them on and went to sleep. I awoke around 4pm, to a gentle prod on my shoulder. Mom. “It’s time to get up sweetie, we’re getting ready to go out for dinner.” I nodded and muttered an acknowledgement, still half in the daze of jetlag, and she got up to go.

Then she paused. “Also, if you wouldn’t mind just straightening this up a bit,” gesturing to the floor, “your Grandparents are coming over later.” She went out.

There it is. That’s exactly what I had feared. Defensive thoughts of indignation filled my head, replacing the cool maturity that had been so clear. I’ve been home not five hours, and already I’m being treated like a kid. Being told to clean up my room… I’m not a high schooler anymore, I know to do that. It’s not even that messy—

That was when I sat up in bed, and got a look at the genuinely impressive mess I had made of my suitcase. You would think I had tried to redecorate the floor, not looked for a pair of sweatpants. Ok, maybe she has a point. But she should still trust me to do it myself… I thought as I messily half-stuffed my clothes back in.

It wasn’t until a week into the trip that I actually hung anything up.

The whole trip went a bit like that. I felt frustrated at my inability to show them how grown up I was, and felt they were doing everything they could not to acknowledge it when I did. There’s truth to both sides. At one point, my dad told me he didn’t trust me to drive to the grocery store because of what might happen to the car. I commute every day for an hour on LA freeways.

But I also felt as though I didn’t seem like an adult. I slept really late, had the aforementioned wardrobe issues, and relied on my parents for meals. I was deeply frustrated. Why am I suddenly so sophomoric? Why does it seem like exactly what my parents were expecting? Has the last year of my life been a complete fallacy, and inside I’m a 15-year-old kid who just happens to have a college degree?

No. That’s not the case. The truth is that since being on my own, I’ve found that I do my best work at night, and that I don’t really function any better or worse in a messy room. I have a system, and though it may change with age, right now it works for me. The conflation of getting up early and keeping a tidy room with adulthood was based on my parent’s definition of adulthood, but not my own.

And that’s just the thing. Adulthood might be to some people a clean room or a smooth itinerary, but ultimately it’s something that each defines for him/herself. Adulthood is figuring out who you are, and then learning to integrate that self into society.

That second clause is the key. You can’t be uncompromisingly yourself when you deal in matters of respect. Rest assured, I’ll make a point of being clean next time I go home. It won’t come from some misguided sense of self, but rather as a sign of genuine respect for the woman who raised me when I’m under her roof. That’s how society functions, from house rules to speed limits: we compromise in order to live together.

The progression from parent-child to more equal footing is not something that happens overnight. It begins by rebelling, but a much more important step is doing the opposite. I respect them both, in their own right, more than anyone else in the world. Now that I no longer have to do things the way they want them, I can do something far more profound; I can choose to.

That’s what growing up is all about.

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