When did you finally feel like an adult?

By Caitlin Kelly

 

 

 Crossing the Atlantic -- thumb firmly in mouth. Adulthood? Nope, not yet!
Crossing the Atlantic — thumb firmly in mouth. Adulthood? Nope, not yet!

It happened to me at 14, when a series of frightening events beyond my control collided within a few days while I was living in Mexico.

My mother became ill and suddenly incapacitated; a friend my age had just arrived from Canada for a two-week visit and, while staying with us — we were then on our own — she burned her eyelashes and eyebrows off while lighting our hot water heater.

We had no phone, few friends and no relatives anywhere nearby.

We figured it out. Mostly because we had to.

I left my mother’s care after that and have never lived with her since. I keep reading blogs by women who talk about being “unmothered.” After 14, that was pretty much my new normal; my step-mother, only 13 years my senior, was not a nurturer.

So I’m always fairly fascinated by discussions of what it means to be(come) mature and responsible.

A recent New York magazine article focused on women in their 30s choosing to freeze their eggs as they have no luck finding a man eager — let alone willing — to take on the responsibilities of marriage, let alone of parenthood:

Before he was a fertility specialist, Dr. Keefe was a psychiatrist…

“There are a lot of options,” he said, “and people have to choose the one that’s right for them. But in order to know what’s right, you have to ask yourself, why are you here?”

“I wasted a lot of time in my last relationship,” I admitted. “I want to make sure that I take care of myself.”

He leaned forward and paused. “There’s something wrong with the men in your generation,” he said. I was stunned. Here was a doctor who had just been talking about the importance of considering statistical significance, and now he was chalking my dating problems up to the broadest of generalizations. But he was articulating two forms of truth: the mathematical and the personal.

“It isn’t you,” he said. “All day long, I see patients like you. You’re smart, beautiful, accomplished, nice. It makes no sense. I go home to my wife and I say, ‘There’s something wrong with the men in this generation. They won’t grow up.’”

People who fetishize parenthood assume that only by getting married and/or having and/or raising children can you truly become an adult.

I don’t buy it.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I’ve seen too many sloppy, careless brutes wearing wedding rings, running their vows ragged. I’ve also seen too many careless parents.

I do think that caring for others, actively and consistently, is key to maturity and generativity, the desire to give back. It might be a pet or a child or your neighbor or your students.

I recently watched an odd indie film, Obvious Child, in which the main character, a young comic named Donna Stern, gets pregnant after a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion.

I enjoyed the film in some ways, but found her neurotic compulsion to date losers and make lousy life choices in general, even with loving  and solvent parents nearby, depressing and irritating.

Grow up, I wanted to shout at the screen!

I feel the same way (cliche alert!) when I hate-watch the HBO series Girls, which follows the lives of four whiny white girls in their 20s as they try to find jobs, men and friendship in Manhattan. I know many young women lovelovelove the show and its outspoken young creator Lena Dunham.

I just can’t.

We all make terrible choices and we usually get most of them out of the way in our 20s and 30s. (I married the wrong man, moved to NYC with no job in sight, etc.)

When I met the man I’m now married to — 15 years together this spring! — I wondered if he was mature enough to be a husband, which is both a noun and a verb meaning to care for. (Well, actually to manage frugally and carefully, which is close enough for me.)

He ticked all the boxes, as the Brits would say: handsome, great job, funny, snappy dresser, global travel, devout Buddhist. But he felt somehow rooted in single life.

Newlywed!
Newlywed!

My doubts blew away in one powerful action, when we flew out to help my mother after she was found to have a very large benign brain tumor and we had to take care of her home, dog and paperwork with only three days in a foreign country.

He dragged her soiled mattress onto the verandah without a word and started scrubbing it clean. I’d never seen someone so nonchalantly do a nasty job with no drama, foot-dragging or avoidance. It meant a lot to me.

He stepped up.

I now teach college freshmen and am intrigued to see which of them are more mature than others and why. I’ve also met some lovely young people in their early to mid-20s, maybe old souls, who seem able to just get on with it, with grace, style and humor.

I don’t believe you have to be old to be wise nor do I assume that someone young(er) is de facto foolish and unable to make excellent decisions.

But I do fear for the current crop of children and teens whose parents and grandparents hover incessantly over them in a desperate and misguided attempt to protect them from every possible owie.

The world does not arrive with a big pile of bandaids to hand out.

Do you feel like an adult?

What did it for you?

When Your Child Needs A 'Rough Stone': Coping With Bullying, Sadness And Loss

Image taken by me on March 5, 2007.
Image via Wikipedia

Fellow True/Slanter Bob Cook has been writing on school-based cruelty as well and something he said hit me hard — that comments on this (not here at T/S, interestingly) tend to sneer at anyone who finds bullying unacceptable. They insist it’s natural, normal, that “kids will be kids.”

Well, barracudas and piranhas will also shred your flesh, but that’s in their nature. It is the specific task of parents, teachers and other adult role models to ensure that the nastiest of children do not remain feral, vicious animals by not being told their behavior is wrong.

Those who shirk that duty, certainly while collecting pay and healthy pensions funded by our taxes, need to understand their responsibilities. If not, and a suicide is the result of such bullying, they must be criminally liable. Turning a blind eye, remaining passive, is not an option.

I am constantly shocked that bullying, (aka cruelty, abuse, unkindness), is so often described as simply a part of growing up, something we should all just “suck up” as part of becoming a Teflon-skinned adolescent or functioning adult. Great! Now we can all be cruel/wounded adults. There’s a terrific lesson.

There is no justification for deliberate acts of cruelty. Most important — and overlooked — there is no acceptable way to calibrate what is truly hurtful to someone else. This is the height of arrogance. Just because you or your kids could handle it (really?), doesn’t mean someone else has the emotional resources, or other sources of kindness and comfort or the powerful, necessary defense mechanisms to reframe their tormentors as pathetic scum.

Even the tiniest children can arrive at school — whether the bully or his/her victims — from a home already filled with toxicity: rage, alcoholism, drug abuse, incest, chronic poverty, terminal illness, madness. Kids are taught to keep their feelings private, to “be a man”, not to open up.

One of my favorite writers in the world, Susie Boyt, a columnist for the Financial Times, recently wrote a beautiful column suggesting a simple, elegant solution. Yet it is one that relies on a deep trust in others’ empathy. Is that possible?

A friend who counsels bereaved children told me recently about what she calls “rough stone” work. A child who has experienced a loss is given a rough stone and a smooth stone, and every day puts one of the stones on her teacher’s desk at school. The smooth stone means she is feeling all right; the rough stone means she is feeling bad, and is a sign that she may need a bit of extra attention, one-to-one time, cuddles, a place to cry quietly, or just general special treatment.

The child then learns, through being required to clock in emotionally, that her state of mind is of utmost concern to her teachers and her school. She can seek attention without feeling attention-seeking. There is a strong net of care that is discreet. No child wants to feel outlandish and unusual.

It makes me happy to know this system is in place in some of our schools because it was not always so. I have friends who lost a parent in early childhood and are amazed at the treatment they received. “No one ever, ever referred to the fact my father had died,” one friend still laments to this day. “They thought by mentioning it they would set me off, but I was left thinking I was the only person in the world who had noticed.”

Buy It, Show It Off, Attract 200,000 Views: Welcome to 'Haul' Videos

NEW YORK - JULY 09:  A shopper carries an Aber...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Here’s a sad little commentary on what young women care about, memorialized (where else?) in today’s Times Styles section:

The majority of haul videos are made by women in their teens and early 20s, and their favorite stores are the ones you might expect for that age: Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M, Forever 21. In the two dozen videos I watched, there was hardly any mention of upscale brands, except perhaps a perfume bought at a discounter, and indeed girls are called out by followers if they seem to brag.

Alice Marwick, a doctoral candidate in culture and media studies at New York University, has been looking at haul videos as part of a research project, and she admits that watching a teenager show off six new T-shirts can be mind-numbing. “But most of the videos have 200,000 views,” she said. “And the girls all comment on them. That’s a fascinating idea of consumption.”

Among the most popular channels are allthatglitters21, by Elle Fowler, and juicystar07, by her younger sister, Blair. One of their joint videos had more than 500,000 views.

Gotta love it all. The blond chick with the glittery pale blue eyeshadow in her sterile white suburban bedroom with the — bien sur! — requisite taste-signifier, a giclee print of Paris over her bed. The camera zooming in. Her Chiclet teeth. Her preternatural comfort with the camera. Her utter conviction that boasting about all the crap she’s just bought is really interesting.

Am I alone in finding this really depressing?