I was a late bloomer, meaning it took me about twice as long as the average human to stop fucking around and grow up. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but one thing that always stood in the way was fear: fear that once I flipped the magical switch that lit up the adult bulb, it would turn out to be the garbage disposal instead, shredding through childhood like week-old chili. I don't think that's an uncommon fear -- we tend to build up these preconceived notions about things we've never experienced and then just sort of blindly deal with those false impressions when we get there. Right, sex?
I can't eliminate those fears -- that's something that comes from experience, not sermons. But I can give you a heads up on some beliefs that turned out to be wrong when I made my own transition. For instance ...
When You're a Kid ...
"I've seen my parents rushing around, trying to get things done, and they look miserable. Mom's carrying a full-time job on top of trying to keep the house in order and everyone fed. Dad is on the fifth year of his 'sleep until 4 p.m. and then drink until he passes out' scientific study. Watching them operate is exhausting. If I ever get that way, just put a gun in my mouth and end my misery in a merciful expulsion of crimson mist and matted hair. I am 9 years old."
"Do not test my patience again, Father."
But When You're an Adult ...
Adulthood isn't about the job ... it's about contribution. We automatically know that the dad in that psychotic 9-year-old's example isn't a true adult, even though we know nothing else about his life. Why? It's not because he drinks. Plenty of well-adjusted, respectable people drink. It's not because he doesn't have a job. There are millions of at-home parents across the globe who sure as hell aren't considered social strap-ons. They contribute by making a better environment for their children and taking pressure off of their spouse's back.
But just from those few sentences, we know that this dad is a piece of shit, because he sits back and just exists while the mother does all of the major work, both in and out of the house. I can remember only a handful of years that my dad didn't live with his mother. Even when he had a job, he spent all of his money on booze and personal bullshit. He worked his ass off but contributed virtually nothing to his family or society. He went to his grave never having reached the status of "adult." But, man, could he draw a mean cartoon penis on an Etch A Sketch.
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He never figured out how to erase them, though, so he just bought new ones.
On a more literal note, does being an adult mean that you have to physically work more than when you're a teenager? It can mean that. It depends on the career you choose and how much of your life you want to devote to it. But looking back on my own high school years, I don't think I work any harder now than I did back then. Think about it: Your day doesn't end after eight hours at school. You still have homework to do. Tests to study for. Projects to complete. Do you play sports? Are you in the school band? Chorus? Drama? Fight Club? If so, you're probably putting in more hours a week than I am.
Contribution is the key. Does that mean you have to have a family or become some life-saving community volunteer? Hell no. Contribution comes in many forms. But being able-bodied and able-minded and choosing to just exist while others take care of you isn't it. That's more garden than human.
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When You're a Kid ...
"Why do I have to eat my dinner before dessert? It's all food, and it's all going into my body. What difference does it make what order I eat them? It's just dumb, arbitrary bullshit. And while I'm at it, please get off my nuts about being 20 minutes late to grandma's dinner. I wasn't that hungry to begin with, and it wasn't like I was late for school or work. It was just laid back family stuff. I understand about responsibility, but holy Christ, if being an adult turns me into a meticulous bean counter, I'll just become a Time Lord so I can flip off the world forever."
I said "Time Lord," not "blurry clock baby."
But When You're an Adult ...
This is extremely hard for a lot of kids to grasp, because teaching responsibility is such a slow process. In the early years, we hammer home the idea to "just be a kid." Play, have fun. Your responsibility begins and ends with "don't set anything on fire." Then, as you grow up, we add little bits at a time. Make your bed. Then clean your room. Then we add dishes or yard work or replacing all of the sewer pipes.
Eventually, we hit a tipping point where the parent realizes, "Holy poop, she'll be on her own in just a couple of years, and we still have so much to teach her about taking care of a house and herself while maintaining a job and college classes!" At the same time, the teen thinks, "I'm going to release snakes into this house if they don't let up. I only have a couple of years left before I have to do all of this crap on my own -- why can't they just let me relax and enjoy what's left of my teenage years?"
It's panic on both sides, and each is justified. Human nature makes us repel each other, and the adults can easily start thinking of their kid as lazy, while the teen thinks of the parents as pointless drill sergeants who are getting out of chores by dumping them on the kids. Which is totally an awesome side effect of what we're doing, but it's not the goal.
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"Hahahaha! Look at those stupid assholes! Thanks for the free work, douchefucks!"
Adulthood hasn't made us slaves to responsibility; it's made us teachers, working under a very defined deadline. So whether you know it or not, you're already well on the road to responsibility. Being an uptight asshole is totally up to you, though.