What does it mean to be a grown up? Is it a place you arrive at? Or is it a state of mind? Can we be both grown up and child-like at the same time?
I think I have the grown up thing fairly well down at age 46 but often it doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve learned generally to be a responsible person, but I don’t always like it. I know plenty of adults who don’t strike me as terribly responsible. They drive like maniacs, can’t pay their bills on time, go days without taking baths, neglect their kids schoolwork, don’t believe in exercise and buy lots of boxes of donuts at the local Krispy Kreme.
I, on the other hand, drive fairly soberly, never have a late bill, bathe regularly, try to keep up on my daughter’s schoolwork (this often feels like a second job), work out at least four times a week and generally stay away from overdosing on high fat and high caloric food.
But on the other hand this sort of life isn’t too much fun. Maybe my strategy will see me alive into my 90s, but I will have missed many opportunities to gorge myself on my favorite foods. I will never know the pleasure of a nicotine high. I’ve never been drunk nor am I ever likely to be drunk. I’ve never puffed a joint or tried an illegal narcotic. I’ve had some vices but they have been few and far between. I’d like to be more free spirited and spontaneous but I can’t seem to be that way.
I do have a goofy side and I am not afraid to show it, at least among family. But during the days and out in public I play the good citizen role. I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I have a friend who unashamedly sings wherever she goes. That’s the way she is. She can’t suppress it. She must have been a songbird in her previous life. Anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss her grits, not that she could ever utter a bad thing about anyone (Catholic don’t you know). “Here I am. Take me as I am and if it bothers you it sure as heck doesn’t bother me.” There’s a lot to admire about that attitude. I consider myself self-confident but I don’t have that kind of self-confidence. I probably never will. It is hard sometimes to put on a controversial bumper sticker on my car wondering what the neighbors will think.
In short being a grown up, or acting grown up, isn’t much fun. It’s kind of like swallowing that glass of Metamucil ever day, or having regular rectal exams.
It is hard for me to turn off that part of my brain that says do what I should be doing. The list of “shoulds” never stops. I should wash and wax the car. I should trim the hedges or clean the bathrooms. I always feel a little guilty when I take days or hours off just to smell the roses a bit. Not that I haunt flower gardens in my spare time. More likely I am on the computer, in a forum discussing politics, or playing the PHP server side scripting.
I don’t know why I do this. There is not much good reason for it. Perhaps it comes from growing up Catholic. When you see life in the prism of sin vs. non-sin and you hear daily what God expects of you, you tend to bring that orientation into life. But I thought I gave up the Catholicism gig years ago. Why if I’ve given up the theology should its overarching outlook on life still chain me? Why can’t I let it go completely?
Even the messiest person ends up dead in a box, just like me. Only they were able to enjoy more of their lives doing things that mattered more to them. Me, I get to go to heaven and report to God that I had clean toilets.
Somehow I don’t think that’s what life is about.
What sort of person are you? If you found a way toward your own personal liberation how did you do it? How did you draw figure out the line between being reasonably grown up but not too grown up? What were the factors that allowed you to achieve this liberation?