Monday, September 11, 2006

grow up!

The other day I told someone to "grow up."

(Nevermind how pathetic and inappropriate this command might seem from someone who uses the word "dookie" twice in a single paragraph.)

It needed to be said. This person - who will remain unnamed - needs to grow up.

I do not mean that he needs to drive a sedan. Or that he should cook like Martha Stewart or buy a house. Or decorate his apartment like a page out of the Pottery Barn catalog. I do not mean that he should stop wearing Converse, give up on his dreams, and become a suburban drone.

Although, I have to say that when I finished college, this is what "grow up" meant to me. So I determined never to do it.

When I entered the work force - this is a soul-sucking expression if ever there was one - I saw even more wisdom in the decision not to "grow up" because most of the grown ups around me were both miserable and shockingly immature. I saw 30 year olds who let their friends falsely believe they were having affairs with multiple college coeds. 40 year olds who keyed people's cars. 50 year olds who did bad impressions of their bosses, literally, behind their backs. Adulthood was not only bland and grating, it embarrassed the hell out of me.

'I'll pass,' I thought.

Whenever I heard anyone tell someone else to grow up, even it was someone in a movie, I automatically hated that person. It was as if they were saying "Accept this curse - it is your obligation and your destiny - or be cast out from the company of Man," while they swayed in grey robes at the edge of the Forest of Eternal Night.

Now I'm wearing the grey robes and swaying in front of the forest?

Hell no.

When we're babies, our parents are gods. We're obligated by our own floppy limbs, useless vocal cords, and overwhelmed, underdeveloped synapses to rely on them for everything. They show us how the world works. What they say goes. That's not just because they're bossy and controlling but also, when we're too little and floppy to make decisions and take action on our own, it is imperative that we have an example to follow and a hand to guide us. During our formative years, they are the pinnacle of adulthood. Everything we do is either controlled by or assessed by our parents. We're incapable of considering that what they might say, do, or think might be wrong - or at least, not right for us - because they are the only things between us and the great, wide, dangerous world.

That's how a lot of people get screwed up. When you're wee and your parent does something dangerous on a regular basis, your brain is wired to believe that's how a person is supposed to operate in the world. You take that information in as if it were gospel because that's your biological imperative. Does that make any sense? These people are your sole means of survival and they behave a certain way so you come to believe that that way is the right way. As you get older, you tend to repeat their behaviors or you find people in your life who repeat those behaviors because that's what home feels like to you.

We also rely on our parents to assess us. Again, when we're too small to care for ourselves, we have to rely on the big people to tell us how to do that. They tell us what to do and how to do it until we're able to figure out some of that on our own. And then we spend years pointing to what we've done and hoping for some of that beaming and handclapping we crave. Or we hide what we've done behind the sofa and hope we don't get spanked.

But eventually, that has to stop.

Fourteen years after finishing college, I've finally figured out what it means to "grow up." It doesn't mean becoming a drone or a page out of a catalog. It doesn't mean that I stop drinking or staying out late or keying cars or picking my nose.

It doesn't even mean that we stop thinking about how our parents will react. It just means we stop acting as if their feelings and reactions are more important than ours. It means that we stop making decisions and taking action based on how our parents will react; relying on them for instruction and approval; or blaming them for how we are. At some point, we have to take responsibility for our own lives.

At some point, we have to say to ourselves "Uch, they're going to hate ______. But this is who I am and they're just going to have to deal with it."


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