When do you become an adult? An article on CNN claims that grownups are getting older by the decade. The number 26 came up, an age I considered the start of middle-agedness!
When did I first think of myself as a grown-up?
I think there is some part of me that would never want to admit to being “an adult,” at least that part of adulthood that seems resigned and thinks silliness is for the young folks; that part that is closer to death not only chronologically but spiritually.
On the other hand, I think there are some things about grown-ups that are actually good. Grown-ups are responsible: not just for the mortgage or the next TPS report, but for their communities, their families, and themselves. Grown-ups are passionate, not just playful. We think about athletic or musical prodigies and we assume that they are passionate about their focus. I’m not sure they really are.
I can speak with some authority on this, having at one point been considered something of an academic prodigy. I started taking university classes when I was 12 I think! They say memory is the first thing to go. At least I think that’s first…), and by the time I was 14, I was a matriculating at–see below–UC Irvine.
I was excited about programming and computers, and about history and sociology. I loved being in a library and finding new things. And over some time, I became passionate about many things in my life. I didn’t need such passion to excel in my studies, but I had become a passionate person well before I was 26.
At 26 I had already been married for six years. I had spent a couple of those in Japan, where as a foreigner I often felt and was treated like a child. By 26, I had returned to graduate school, which for many seems to be an excuse to extend childhood indefinitely. But I had already been an adult most of my life.
Despite outward appearance, awkwardness with strangers that still dogs me, and a serious lack of seriousness, I’ve felt like a grown-up as long as I can remember. When, as an 8 or 9-year-old, someone treated me like a child, I was left confused. I felt both responsible and passionate well before I could legally drink, vote, or drive. Unlike some who “grew up too early,” I never feel like I missed something by not having a childhood. It was, for me, something to escape.
What does it mean when the youth of America think of themselves as not yet adults? I’m not even sure I know what it means for me, I have a difficult time knowing what it means for them. I have a lot of contact with people in the age group (18-26ish) discussed in the article, and for many of them, it’s not just a matter of not yet being adults; they revel in their childishness. But many, perhaps even most, lack the noble virtues of children: curiousity, eagerness, energy, inquisitiveness, playfulness. Because some retain these strengths, while putting aside tantrums and self-involvement, teaching is still my favorite hobby. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing, at least once every semester, that some of my students would just grow up.