Friday, March 14, 2008

Adult Defined

Ever since I was young I have wondered how I would know when I was adult. In legal terms I became an adult at the age of 18 but I was a far cry from an adult in any other sense of the word. I thought once I had graduated from college and was no longer financially dependent on my parents then I would definitely be an adult. But I moved into an apartment with my sister, got a job that had awful hours and bad pay and felt like nothing more than a big kid. A year later I decided to move to New York City with two other girls (nope, definitely wasn't an adult yet if I'm referring to the three of us as "girls"). I was sure that I would finally feel "grown up" living in the big city not knowing anyone, my family far away. The first year past, then another with me moving into my own apartment, then another. I was having a good time enjoying my independence but I still didn't feel like an adult.

I felt like "me" but I couldn't make "me" feel like an adult.

I often wondered how I looked to other people. Did I look like a grown woman? Or did I look like the oversized kid that I still felt like inside. I started designating landmarks in my life that would signify my official entrance into adulthood. A serious relationship, my parents retiring, the birth of my niece, a job that didn't require me to ask "would you like your margarita frozen or on the rocks?". I arrived at most of these landmarks only to find that I felt no significant change in status.

My job as a bartender kept me out of what I considered to be the normal adult world. I went to work when most people were coming home. My "full time" schedule demanded only about half the hours of a normal full time job. I served patrons who were older than me most of whom treated me more like a kid than an adult. And probably one of the most important points, I didn't feel like I was doing anything worthwhile, anything that was contributing to society (except maybe adding a few more alcoholics).

A short time ago, my boyfriend and I were walking through our Astoria neighborhood on our way to the fish market. After making a stop at a busy ATM vestibule where we listened to a woman chatting away loudly on her cell phone about some sort of legal/financial matter, he commented on how people's private lives have become such a public affair with the advent of cell phones. Our conversation then drifted to the "I remember when..." of our childhood when technological conveniences like cell phones, Mapquest and ATMs were just a science fiction story. All of a sudden I realized, I had stumbled upon my definition of adult. When you can look at how the world once was and see how far it's come, the changes in technology and society itself, only then can you really start to see yourself as an adult.

I still look at myself in the mirror and search for the 31 year old woman who is supposed to be there. More often than not, I see the same person I saw ten or fifteen years ago, perhaps partly due to my luck in inheriting "good genes". On a recent trip to Pennsylvania to see my family and celebrate my grandfather's 92nd birthday I rediscovered my mother's senior portrait that now hangs in my grandparent's bedroom. She looks exactly the same except for a close cropped hairdo in place of the 60's bouffant flip and the addition of a few laugh lines.

So I guess I'm an adult. I can remember going to the bank with my parents where we had to wait in long lines so they could cash their paychecks and withdraw money. I remember them laying out the road map the night before a family vacation to plan the drive. I remember when we finally got cable and then a VCR, we had to decide between VHS and Beta (we chose wisely). I remember when the the most convenient way to get in touch with people was to page them on their beeper. I remember when gas was $1.15 a gallon. In fact, the only thing I can't remember is when I became an adult.

1 comment:

Jayne said...

I was just thinking this morning, as my belly is now really beginning to show the pregnancy, "I wonder if anyone thinks I'm too young to be pregnant!"

so I can now tell you this: the pregnancy milestone does not guarantee you will feel like an adult.