That’s your problem. You’re always thinking that there’s some moment when you start to feel like an adult and everything comes into focus. That doesn’t happen. Nope. It’s never just a moment; it’s a slow drip, an IV full of poison.
In Salman Rushdie’s epic novel Midnight’s Children, the main character wonders if there’s a third principle between the dualities: Have and lack, right and left, poor and rich, capitol and labor, masses and classes. “If there is a third principle, its name is childhood. But it dies; or rather, it is murdered.” What kills childhood? It’s poisoned, as children serve as “the vessels into which adults pour their poison.”
Take me as an example, a recipient of the slow drip for nearly 20 years. That’s a third of my life, since I was 11. I longed for adulthood, a want to be respected, but was also thrust into it when my mom died at that age. Adultness was a stomach full of uncertainty and embracing it as inevitability. My adultness would rise up in me slowly, as I assumed it did for adults, bubble in my belly for a few uncertain moments, then settle into a straight face during hard times. My straight face, my adultness, had a facade that would crack into laughter at even the faint hint of a fart sound and be flooded with tears at even the faint memory that life surely ends with death.
Each year I’ve tried to imagine myself as a full-on adult, I’ve failed. Sure, some days I’ll feel a vague pain and think, Yep, this is what being old feels like, I get it now. But then the pain subsides briefly and I find myself singing an all “space cowboy” rendition of Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” (“Some people call me the space cowboy/some people call me the space cowboy. SOME PEOPLE CALL ME THE SPACE COWBOY wolf whistle, etc”) while realizing that I’d certainly prefer this mindless joking to sitting at a desk or huddled in bed, in pain, and realize full-on adulthood lies in lies.
Admit it, you fib to yourself about who you are and what you do, about your maturity, about your skills as a decision-maker. I sure as hell do. Anyone who considers themselves an expert or amateur in any field – even their own life – does. Perhaps we’ve been poisoned into thinking that we’re not good enough to be a true adult now but one day with enough hard work…. with enough money… with enough of a family life built up… we’ll get there.
This seems to be a necessary part of the game we all have to play. After all, no one is going to hire someone who outwardly considers themselves to be an advanced version of an 11 year old, right? We want people who are confident and decisive and correct and righteous. So perhaps the difference lies in what you hide, all those childish moments of questioning and laughing and pettiness and anger. They’re all still there, hidden behind a shield of your only-recently developed frontal cortex.
Our frontal cortex is finally developed at the age of 25 and we learn that getting black-out drunk is bad, fires are dangerous, fart jokes aren’t funny to people who consider themselves adults, and promiscuous sex acts leave you in danger of – in the eyes of the religious – being raped by the devil in hell for eternity.
But in many forms, adultness is simply a way to corral loose puppies, the ones who decided to scamper too far and chew on lose pieces of grass. The weightiness of expectation is a klaxon aimed directly for your ear to drown out all the puppy-dog questions you’ve ever had, like “I wonder what grass tastes like?” or “I wonder how different live would be if I had the courage to…?” It’s the demand for the cessation of questioning because certain questions just make us all feel a bit too uncertain about your status as an adult. So we don’t ask the question. We become incurious.
My adultness makes me say things like, “Welp, only two more hours to kill in this work day.” It makes me nod my head to things like, “Don’t ask any questions, we don’t want him to be on our ass.” It makes me sad when I realize that life is one big lonely venture where alls well that ends well as far as the next generation is concerned; we’re dead, they live, the cycle repeats, people visit the newly childlike grandma once in a while but not enough to end up depressed.
Adultness, the deliver of poison, makes us all think we have to be SOMETHING, no matter what, just SOMETHING. And what, exactly? I still haven’t quite figured it out. I’ve noticed many have this well-paved road they go down: “Well, first, I’m going to get in at the associate level. Then I’ll vie for partner. Then I’ll be able to retire by 60. Then I’ll golf four days a week and …”
Others have this desolate highway they drive where adultness envelops them entirely. They become completely certain of all and everything and all the more prickly for their knowledge. Life becomes a horseshoe and ends with them throwing temper tantrums at grocery stores and school board meetings because THEY’RE RIGHT, DAMNIT!!!
Others still are more sensible, to the point where what makes sense to them makes sense to all. It’s just common sense, after all.
It’s all a facade, that same facade I had at 11 when I felt it was time to stop being a child. Our adultness, despite ourselves, is our security blankie, a frail rag that tells us everything is going to be OK because we’re adults and adults lead OK lives. Frankly, everything isn’t going to be OK. Life’s tough and only made tougher by digging heels into long-stale thoughts or opinions. The malleability of childlike thought is left a wayfaring stranger the minds of the absolutely certain.
Let me tell you: things only come into focus momentarily and those moments of certainty are rare and glorious. But only-occasional glory is OK too. There’s security in adultness to a point, but everyone – the police officers, CEOs, teachers; yanno, big-time adults! – I’ve spoken with or interviewed all have some part of them that wonders, “Do they know that I’m faking all of this?”
Why not embrace that uncertainty as an antidote to the poison?