On “adulting”

IMG_20170411_191659444Part of adulthood, for me, is the constant struggle to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And so I’m throwing this post out here today. It’s a barely-edited-for-clarity email response to my friend Vanessa’s TinyLetter, which you can (and should!) read here. Vanessa’s daily letter is the best thing in my inbox every day.
Anyway, Vanessa wrote that, and then I sent her a rant, and with her Vanessa-grace and superpowers of encouragement, she responded, ” Please publish it as a blog post.”
I am fighting the urge to edit the bejeebies out of this thing. I’ve been percolating it for a couple of weeks, thinking about how I could make it better, deeper, richer, lovelier. But #@&% that. I have fourteen chicks living in my basement and a swarm of honeybees on my carport and a kiddo who remembered at 9 last night to ask me to help him study for the geography test today. So. Here is a barely-edited email rant on the subject of my mixed feelings about adulthood.
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I was a kid who dreaded becoming an adult. I didn’t want to be a grown up. I wanted to be Peter Pan and be a kid forever. I’ve always felt younger than the other adults of the same age around me–less mature, less sophisticated, less with-it, more wide-eyed, more naive, more excited. After having kids of my own, I’m definitely more in the Ira Glass camp of damn, this adulting is exhausting.
But I also find myself getting really really crotchety when I see these memes about how adulting is hard. Because there’s something there that privileges youth at the expense of wisdom and experience, that privileges all-night parties and glowy skin at the expense of subtler, deeper pleasures and beauties.
Childhood wasn’t even a part of our worldview until the Victorians, who we also have to thank for such awesomeness as tiny salt spoons and men’s homes being their castles. Until the Victorians came on the scene, children were viewed mostly as tiny adults. They weren’t unloved or emotionally shoved aside like a lot of people like to claim, but “childhood” as we know it now really wasn’t a “thing.” So I feel like this opposition between icky adulthood and sparkly childhood somehow traces its lineage back to that initial distinction.
I think I’m crotchety about the “adulting is hard” crowd because it feels to me like an extension of the very problematic and gross way that our culture privileges youth over age, specifically when it comes to women because men are allowed to be valuable and competent and sexy as they age. But we tell women they should have teenage bodies covered with preteen skin. We tell women what they shouldn’t wear when they hit the dreaded 30 or 40 or 50. We make women over 60 invisible. We idolize old dudes who’ve “aged well” but not old women. We ignore the myriad ways in which aging women rock and are wildly individual and freaking gorgeous.
As I’m growing older, I’m fighting the ingrained urge to hate on my white hairs and the soft wrinkles just starting at the corners of my eyes. I don’t hate these things in and of themselves, but I feel like I’ve been conditioned to hate them. Because they’re signs that I’m no longer young and therefore culturally valuable. Ick.
It’s this kind of thing that makes me want to resist the “adulting” mantras with all my being. Because they privilege youth at the expense of age. Now that we have an old president who acts like a toddler, this feels especially important. Adulthood matters. Objective truth matters. Doing the right thing and making the hard call and bucking up and dealing matter. I love my kids. They’re amazing. They have these wonderful qualities of energy and imagination and passion that I always want to embody. But they’re also lacking in many of the qualities that will someday make them wonderful adults. They have a lot of developing to do. They are loving, sweet boys, but they haven’t yet truly learned to walk in others’ shoes and see through others’ eyes because kids just aren’t developmentally fully capable of that. I love them and appreciate them more every day–the more they age, the more they mature, the older they get. And I look at this person who is now leading our nation and think, “This dude is the epitome of not growing up, in the worst possible way.” He’s a walking id without a superego.
I want to reclaim adulthood. I think we live in a culture that loves setting up false dichotomies because they’re a way to sell something, to rile people up. They’re a way for those in power to keep power. Complexity doesn’t sell. Right now we’re being bifurcated by a political system that benefits when the American people see each other as factions, as enemies, as faceless others who aren’t fully, messily human. I think the “adulting is hard”/”I want to be a kid forever” dichotomy is one of these weird splits. The real world is messy and so we understandably want to retreat into the loveliness of childhood.
But we forget–and this is where we need the YA writers like crazy–that childhood is freakin’ messy, too. It was hard being a kid, and for some of us–like my friends who were molested, who were assaulted, who were abused, who grew up in poverty–it downright sucked. There’s a certain privilege to idealizing childhood that glosses over the realities of many people’s existences. Those of us who write for kids have never forgotten, not just the great stuff, but also the sheer crap. Especially the crap. Because that’s what kids need to read about–they need to know that the crap is real and awful and that they are not alone in experiencing it and that there is hope. And I think this is what the people who knock YA as a genre are missing.
When we say “adulting is hard” and deny that we are adults because somehow it seems cooler to be kids, we are doing both ourselves and kids a disservice because life is way more complicated than that divide. I think our job as adults is to fully become adult while bringing with us the best parts of being kids (why does everyone seem to think that childlike qualities and adulthood are mutually exclusive??) and refining ourselves, burning away the dross, the kid-egos, the “I am the center of the universe” attitudes, the ignorance of other people’s realities. I want us to see adulthood and childhood as two ranges along the same spectrum, not two opposing forces. We evolve. We grow. We change. And it’s a hard, good thing.

10 thoughts on “On “adulting”

    1. Thanks, sweet Suzi. It is pretty much always a good idea to listen to Vanessa. I like how you put that, too–“the soft parts have stories to tell.” Such a rich image. ❤

  1. Great post. Thanks for putting some perspective into “adulting”. Trying to empathize with the trails and tribulations of people from a different generation/scenario (young or old) helps reduce some of the difficulty I sometimes feel when going about my daily life. Only occasionally successful at doing this… 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jude! Empathy is an excellent strategy. Although I have to admit that I have to fight the urge to rumble with the well-meaning older folks who say things like, “These are the best years of your life” while my kids are dismantling the entire grocery store. 🙂

  2. I’m so GLAD that you took Vanessa’s advice and put this out there, Brenna! YES – to all of it! I still feel young – frozen-in-time-at-age-19-young! – but at the same time, I’m so damn glad that I’m no longer 19 years old!

    As I’m sneaking up on 50, I keep wondering what the next decade will bring me? And I’m giddy with anticipation because my 40s have been soooooo great!

    The balance is in keeping all that is good about childhood – the wonder, joy, laughter, excitement – and mixing it with the things that you talk about here as we become adults. I absolutely do not see these two things as mutually exclusive. And I’ve got a picture of myself dressed up as a Purple Steampunk Rabbit as one of the Chairs of my kid’s School Auction this past Friday night to prove it! (The theme was Adventures In Wonderland…)


    1. I saw that picture, Barb! And I remember a recent post about feeling 19. I’m watching you, lady. You are modeling the kind of woman I want to be. I’m delighted that your 40s have been so good to you. I’m liking mine so far. 50 is just going to make you more wonderful, I’m sure. ❤

  3. I love this, agree with this, and needed you to articulate this for me… Thank you! The adulting is hard thing is a childish way of looking at responsibility. I think it’s challenging, for sure, but so interesting and worth it. I’m reminded of this every mother’s day when I’m given the pleasure of having no responsibilities and by the end of the day I feel listless and useless. Children need to have responsibilities so that when they’re adults, they’re not shocked and dismayed by having even more responsibilities.

    1. Thanks so much, Phoebe! I wonder if the “adulting is hard” nonsense is an American thing? Adulthood is definitely challenging, and you’re so right–it’s also interesting. Much more interesting than childhood, I think. I also think you are rocking the balance of adult and childlike qualities, and your girls are super-lucky to have such a mama.

  4. You speak to me with this post – the false dichotomy of youth. I added this link to my cultural shadow work collection page, if you don’t mind. I agree that there are unexplored aspects to this whole thing. Children are often the Other – so often that that’s what there’s an entire creepy subgenre of children’s horror. I have a friend who’s an expert on the topic. The aged – particularly older women – are often the Other as you so perfectly articulated. (I think we should all be writing granny’s adventure tales. There’s a reason why Murder She Wrote was such a big deal. Let’s make a OA genre.)

    Where I added your link, I called age the “three sided coin”. There’s a “heads” side of this coin (childhood), a “tails” side of this coin (aging) or the impossible, thin edge that balances between them where all of the privilege lies (youth / young adulthood).

    1. Thanks, AK–good to know I’m in such good company! You’re welcome to link–and thank you. I hadn’t thought about the “creepy kid” trope–what an apt connection! And the old woman–the crone. I am in complete agreement with the granny adventure tales! I want to read about people of all ages. I want to learn how to grow old. Thanks for your very well-articulated thoughts.

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