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The Age of Innocence (or: When I Grow Up…)

by JoAnna — November 30, 2012

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about a book we had both read on a young immigrant coming of age, leaving behind his innocence, in America. This discussion led to various other topics such as finding a space to fit into, plans for the weekend and plans for the New Year. It was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary, just a typical mid-morning discussion.

When I got home that afternoon I went about preparing a cup of tea and was struck by a rather amusing thought that came from left field: I am closer to 40 now than I am to 20 and though I’m very much the age of an “adult,” I don’t really feel like one. As I cradled my mug and waited for my tea to cool I found myself mentally revisiting those spotty and angst-ridden teenage years in British Columbia. I recalled conversations with friends where I talked about having it all figured out by the time I hit 30. My 16 year old self was quite certain I’d have an education and a man, a house and a car, a Wednesday night book club and an RRSP, a career and a kid, a silk negligee and an expense account, and yearly vacations at some all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean…all of which would make me so very adult.

It was a list I hadn’t fulfilled when I hit the big 3-0. Actually, there’s a lot I still don’t have today.

When I take a look at my teen-lite “must haves” and focus on the things I continue to lack, an uncomfortable question rises to the surface: did I fail my teenage self? Have I missed the mark of adulthood? I ponder this question for a few days until all I can do is look at myself in the mirror and laugh.

I laugh because nothing is as how I thought it would be. I laugh because it’s more than I ever expected. I laugh because the older I get the less I know, and though my twenties are making their way towards the horizon I can’t shake the feeling of being on the cusp of something. It’s as if I’m standing on the doorstep of a great adventure knowing full well there’s a lot more to learn and a hell of a lot more to experience.

Not a traditionally “adult” way of thinking if you ask me.

I wonder if becoming an adult means adopting socially constructed notions of what the child-to-adult transition entails: taking on more responsibility, moving out on one’s own and providing for oneself.

I wonder if being an adult is all about having children. Will I instantly become a grown-up the minute I birth a new life – or bring one into my home – and provide he/she with shelter, food, clothing and love?

Is being an adult about ownership and accumulating more stuff? Does a house, a car, a second house and a safety deposit box with some diamonds, a power of attorney and Swiss banknotes make me more grown up?

[Is this what being an adult is about? All images by Allie Brosh – the great mind behind Hyperbole and a Half. I couldn’t have envisaged it better myself.]

Sometimes I wonder if I would be more of an adult now if I had stayed in Canada after university and gotten a 9-5 job, settled down with a nice business-oriented guy and started marking the passage of time with a new slab of timber every winter for my split-rail fence.

There are other times when I wonder if it’s all in my head. If moving into the realm of adulthood is something that happens when we make a certain mental shift.

I asked another 30-something friend yesterday about whether she feels grown up and how she defines adulthood. She gave the question some serious thought before handing me a response I found intriguing.

“I don’t think having a big bank account, sprawling house or becoming a parent makes us adults,” she said. “Well, maybe having children does in a way because of the whole reproductive and life cycle aspect, but not entirely. We become adults when we get older; when we know better.

“What I mean is that ageing grants us the passage into adulthood; and I’m not talking about turning 35 or 45. I’m talking 60 and beyond, a time in your life where you’re able to make sense (or have come to accept) many of the things around you. An age where you have a better understanding of the people, the world, all the stuff that does or doesn’t happen and your place among it all. It’s about retaining a certain spark…a fire. It’s about knowing. It’s about wisdom.”

I found myself smiling as my friend spoke. I liked her way of drawing adulthood down and the idea of it being something we earn. I warmed to the notion of gaining knowledge and understanding as opposed to achieving a set of milestones someone else has laid out for me. I also fancy the notion of wizening like an old hag with a life under my belt full of more questions than concrete answers.

Full of more curiosity and mischief than restraint.

More adventure than walking the line.

A life with more failed attempts than heart busting regrets.

What about you: how do you define adulthood? Do you feel “adult?”

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