5 Crappy Milestones Way More Important Than The Good Ones
Cake is a weirdly ceremonial dessert in American culture. If you tell your friend you made a cake over the weekend, they'll likely ask what the occasion was. They would never ask that if you made any other dessert. Cake has replaced the hearts of our enemies as the modern-day victory food, even if it's a victory as small as surviving a full revolution of the Earth around the sun. My point is: If you want a cake more than once a year (which I know you do), then you had better achieve a cake-worthy milestone.
Here's where my problem comes in. I disagree with the rest of the world on what is cake-worthy. The things that we think of as big life milestones -- the positive, happy things we achieve -- are just a gateway to the dark sucky moments that provide us with actual personal growth. These are the moments when we really deserve a cake. Imagine cakes that read ...
CONGRATULATIONS On Your First Car Wreck!
Normally we celebrate a teenager getting their driver's license, but what do you learn from that? You learn that you can drive a car, and ... nothing else? I mean, it's a good life skill to have, don't get me wrong. But you learn a lot more from your first wreck.
You know how some people are sexually attracted to cars? Well, I have a similar problem. It seems like cars are sexually attracted to me, and in order to get to me, they end up slamming their big sexy car bodies into my car (which they are obviously jealous of). The first time this happened, I ended up jumping out of my still-moving car like an action star, but with no plan for what would happen. The car was still my responsibility, and when it stopped spinning and started rolling backwards toward traffic, I then had to jump back in to pull the emergency brake.
From this experience, I learned how I personally deal with a life-threatening situation: poorly. My fight-or-flight response is so strong that it's actually more accurate to call it "flight or flight." My caveman brain kicks in and says "Car hurt, hurt car bad, must run." This is actually really good information to have. It's taught me not to trust my first instinct when something bad happens, because my brain is stupid and does not deserve cake.
But the follow-up to car accidents is a massive adult milestone. You have to explain to your parents, friends, significant other, etc. what happened, knowing that their first reaction will be "Are you OK?" And if you are, you have to address the second reaction of "How fucked are we now, financially speaking?" That's a delicate conversation to have, especially when you're still in "Should I change my underwear" mode.
Dealing with the insurance aftermath of an accident is as adult as it gets. You have to be a supercomputer to organize all the phone calls, emails, pictures, police reports, and insurance forms. And if you have to get a lawyer involved, you might as well crown yourself Queen/King Adult. Then you move on to the mechanic, auto body shop, or if you were in a really bad accident, replacing your car entirely. If you rely on that car to get to work, you just opened up a whole new difficulty setting in your personal adult video game.
After all that, you absolutely deserve cake.
CONGRATULATIONS On Getting Dumped!
Movies are so obsessed with marriage as a major life milestone. I'm over here like "Yay, you put on clothes that cost as much as a used car and bored a hundred people for an hour. Let me slow clap for you." Marriages teach you that you can convince another human being that you're juuuuust not-crazy enough to live with. They're the human version of a corporate merger. Yeah, that may deserve some cake, but ...
Every single breakup is way more valuable. You never analyze yourself, your actions, and the way they affect other people more than when someone dumps you. It's one of the best opportunities for emotional growth. The first time I got dumped, I took to my bed like a delicate Southern Belle in the 1800s. As I was dramatically lying there with the curtains closed because the sunshine reminded me of my 14-year-old true love's smile, I reflected on why I got dumped. This led to my realization that I can be a real dick sometimes.
That's not always the case. Sometimes you learn the person dumping you was a dick, and thank god you don't have to look at that ugly face anymore. Sometimes you learn that life is long and complicated, and just because two people want to be together now doesn't mean they will always feel that way. But recognizing the dick in yourself and/or other people is a massive undertaking. It means one of you messed up so badly that they surgically removed the other from their life. That means that either you or they have to change if they want to prevent it from happening again.
Learning how you're flawed is extremely important for personal growth, but recognizing the flaws in others is just as important. It means you're developing the extremely important skill of seeing through a veil of bullshit. The more practice you get, the better you're going to be at stopping destructive people from entering your life. In either case, your first breakup isn't just cake-worthy. It's cake-necessary.
CONGRATULATIONS On Getting Fired!
Getting your first job is certainly something to celebrate. Being able to support yourself financially is the first real step to adulthood. Personally, I started slinging pizza at 16 to pay for things that were totally legal for me to have, I swear. And also my college education, I guess? Technically I've never been fired from a job, but my last job ended with a meeting where my boss repeatedly asked me if I though I was better than everyone else until I cried in front of a room full of people who I was clearly better than. So yeah, I'm going to equate running from a room crying with being fired.
I learned a lot from that experience. For instance, I learned what happens when a literal human sphincter somehow learns to communicate through a mouth. Mainly, I learned that sometimes life isn't fair. I had heard this rumor for years, but I assumed that meant life wasn't fair for everyone but me, because I'm special. Nothing really drives home the point that you're not special like being fired, and learning that was the most important thing that ever happened to me. If I'm not special, that means that I can't just wait around for my Hogwarts letter to come and my real life to start. I had to get off my ass and start baking those damn cakes for myself.
Of course, if you're unfortunate enough to be actually fired, your adult mode is super important. That's the part that has to put a "shhhhhh" finger up to the mouth of panic and say, "It happened. There's nothing you can do about it now. You have a car payment and rent to worry about. Step one has to happen right now. Collect applications." That is extremely hard to do when your brain is screaming at you to set everything you own on fire, put on a fake mustache, and move to Canada. But after you've been through that once, you learn a level of problem-solving so important that a little Xbox achievement notification should appear in midair and reward you with a cake.
CONGRATULATIONS On Your Pet Dying!
I know, pet death is an inherently hilarious topic. It's often the first experience children have with death and grief. Unless your parents decide to lie to you about it for a while, but eventually you realize that there's no way that ten of your fish escaped to the ocean after discovering how to swim upside-down.
Raising a pet teaches you a lot about responsibility, but there's a whole world of new and horrible things to learn when that pet gets sick. I've never felt more adult than when I was deciding whether or not to have my cat Marshmallow put to sleep. I had adopted her knowing she was an older cat and had never been particularly healthy. Honestly, she probably barfed on everything I ever owned at one point or another. Not just furniture, either. She barfed on my clothes, my video games, my husband -- if it was in our house, this cat probably ralphed on it at some point.
We took her to the vet about a hundred times, and she was diagnosed with "being real barfy." We put her on a medical-grade food for cats with stomachs that are terrible at being stomachs, and she hung on for a good couple of years. Then one day she just stopped eating or drinking altogether. On her her 101st vet visit, the diagnosis was not good. I've never done a deeper examination of my feelings than when I was trying to decide if I wanted Marshmallow put to sleep because I didn't want her to suffer or because I didn't want to watch her suffer. A fart joke should definitely go here.
In the end, I learned a lot about making difficult, adult decisions. You never really know if you've made the right choice, and you don't get to go back and change it. You just have to move forward, trusting that you did the right thing and enjoying the cake you've got, because your pet might not always be there to throw it up all over you.
CONGRATULATIONS On Getting A Shitty Landlord!
Moving into your first apartment is generally cake-worthy, although cake is sometimes replaced with cold pepperoni pizza with a candle in it eaten off the floor. Maybe the pepperoni spells out "You're over 18 and I'm therefore no longer legally obligated to provide your housing" instead of "Congratulations."
It's a great experience to be out on your own for the first time, paying your own bills. But when you're on your own, there's a whole world of shitty experiences for you to navigate, and all of them involve the winged beast that owns the place you're paying to live in. You have to deal with shitty people every day, but rarely do you have to deal with someone who has your balls so thoroughly in a vice. I don't even have balls, and my balls were still thoroughly viced when my landlord sent someone to fix my frozen pipes. I didn't get to pick the plumber who would do the work, and my landlord chose a guy who had played Super Mario Brothers once instead of getting actual training. So when he fixed the pipe with literal duct tape and it exploded at 3 a.m., I had to deal with it by myself.
I realized at that moment that I had literally never dealt with a real personal crisis before. If something bad happened, I just looked to the person beside me -- my mother, my father, or my husband -- and said, "What do we do?" Or more precisely, I said, "AAAAGGGHHH!" But with no one home to ask but a barfy cat who was very wet and unhappy, I had to pull up my pants and do it myself.
With a Beyonce song in my heart, I got the leak stopped, and after realizing that the apartment was never going to be the same again after being flooded with ankle-deep water, I managed to negotiate with the landlord to let me, my barfy cat, and my few remaining worldly possessions leave the premises without paying early move-out fees. Apparently, the fact that my apartment could double as a wading pool was a feature, and they couldn't believe I wanted to move out.
The lesson here may be the most common one you deal with throughout your life, and the first time you encounter it, you totally deserve a cake. A whole one. To yourself. That lesson is: Depending on other people may be a necessary part of life, but recognizing that some of them are lazy, unhelpful assholes means you'd better be comfortable and confident enough to fix a problem yourself.
I honestly wouldn't trade this or any of my other crappy experiences for anything because. Like Jillian Michaels is always yelling at me when I'm working off all that cake, the hard part is the part that matters the most. Without these shitty experiences, I wouldn't understand myself, my thought processes, or the world around me the way I do now. In fact, I'm going to go make a cake right now in celebration of that realization.
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