Thursday, March 31, 2011

It Only Takes a Moment

The law says we become adults at the age of eighteen. Yet no one turns into a grownup at that particular midnight hour. No magical hour or legally defined day determines when we truly cross over from child to adult.

There are simply a handful of tiny defining moments.

We all experience single instances which cause us to pause and think, Damn. I guess I'm an adult now.

Many of us feel initiated into adulthood the first time we flash a legal driver's license to buy beer. (Years later, when a store clerk glances at our face and doesn't bother asking for an ID, we experience yet another defining moment.)

We know we're adults when we first feel the freedom of making our own decisions and choices: the first time we buy a painting and decide where to hang it, in our very own home. Or bring home a stray animal--without needing anyone's permission to keep it.

The epiphany of adulthood often surfaces when that new-found freedom is accompanied by responsibility: paying our own rent or buying groceries from our own paycheck. Applying for our first credit card, mortgage or life insurance policy. (Only adults even consider the long-term need for life insurance.) Or glancing around our trashed apartment and realizing our mother won't simply get fed up and clean it for us. Yes, we grow up quickly the first time we have to unplug a clogged toilet.

We seem to transform into adults the very moment we first mark the "married" box on a doctor's office form. Many of us experience a similar but more sobering feeling the first time we're forced to check the box "divorced."

And some of us feel we're forced to grow up overnight when one of our parents is suddenly gone forever.

Not all the defining moments of adulthood are easy ones. We know we're adults in the instant we accept that life changes and that the most well-adjusted adults are those who learn they must keep moving on.

Perhaps nothing initiates us more into the world of adulthood than becoming a parent. We realize we've crossed the threshold that very first time we carefully lay our newborn baby in his crib and think, I brought this child into the world, and my life has changed forever because of it. Every tiny step that child takes throughout his own life is another defining moment: his first day of school, first soccer game, first driving lesson.

And when that child begins experiencing his own defining moments? There is no question then. The parent of an adult clearly must be an adult herself.

Strange how we sometimes feel sixteen still in our heart.

But as I knock cautiously at the door of age fifty, I know a lifetime compilation of such moments signals--undeniably--that I am an adult. Each of those moments defined not only what I am but who I've become: a grownup with my own set of strengths and faults, successes and failures, disappointments and dreams.

And I wonder: Does being grown-up mean we've fully finished growing? Or is growing up simply an endless stairway we climb for all of our lives?

Perhaps it's a journey, and not a final destination.

Maybe the defining moments never end.

When did you first feel like an adult? What were your defining moments? How do you still hope to grow?

(And a note to my regular readers: Writers are fickle. I am now blogging on Thursdays. Look for me then--barring, as my bio reads, any emergencies or extreme laziness.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pet Peeves: Grading the New Kid in the Class

Grading Period: What Felt Like Freaking Forever

Geography: B+
Improvement shown. Has finally grasped knowledge that the entire indoor world is not a litter box.

Foreign Language: C-
Able to speak fluent Squeakish but still fails to translate into standard Meowese.

Science: A+
Has mastered the biology and chemistry of hairball production.

English Literature: D
Seems to believe the newspaper is intended solely for chewing into pieces to be spit upon the carpet. Extra credit given since our paper is The Toledo Blade.

Math: F
Has difficulty solving basic story problems such as this: Sherry has three cats. In a moment of weakness, she adopts one more. If "Y" equals the amount of work each original cat required, what is the algebraic equation for her total amount of work adding the new cat? (a) 3Y+1 (b) 3Y+Y (c) Who the hell knows, since Sherry flunked high school algebra (d) an infinite amount of work, multiplied by many sleepless nights (e) both c and d.

Art: A-
Demonstrates creativity with use of materials, particularly shredded rolls of toilet paper.

Home Economics: D
Fails to understand basic meal planning, such as cat chow is provided for cats and dog kibble for dogs.

Health Education: D
Doesn't grasp standard grooming techniques. Efforts at hygienic success are hindered by shedding copious amounts of hair and by delighting in chomping chunks of fur out of others.

Gym: A+
Climbs exceedingly well on counter tops. Excels at the 100-yard dash, especially when chased with a spray bottle.

Final Comments: Doesn't respect personal property or play well with others. Deficiencies are somewhat overcome by ability to appear sweet, through innocent wide eyes. Purrs adorably when treading one's chest at 4 a.m.

Student is graduating against teacher's better judgment.

Your turn to grade Sherry: "B" for Benevolent or for Brainless? Any stories about your own Pets from Hell? Anyone wish to adopt an adorable renegade cat?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Breaking-In Middle Age

Wild woman that I am, I just returned from my spring vacation to Florida. Not much has changed since my college spring break days. OK, so maybe just a few things:

Packing List
At Age 19: Cute new bikini, short-shorts, sundresses, Tylenol (for possible hangovers), Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil.
At Age 49: Whatever bathing suit appeared least repulsive in the bedroom mirror, capris or shorts that FULLY cover ballooning thighs, sweaters, Aleve (for medley of body aches), 30 SPF sunblock.

At 19: Straight 20-hour drive through the night; totally awesome if parents offer their car.
At 49: Direct flight; lovely if credit card points are available.

At 19: Cheap motel room, as close to the Strip as possible. Two to three people squeezed into each bed. (Several more can crash on the floor, if necessary.)
At 49: Quiet, nicely equipped condo. Preferably one bedroom per single person or couple. (Pack snore strips and earplugs, if necessary.)

Beach Day
At 19: Body-surfing, parasailing over the ocean.
At 49: Wading in the water up to the ankles, shrieking at the undertow and the frigidity of the ocean.

At 19: Beer or Tequila Sunrises, followed by a few shots.
At 49: Steak or seafood, followed by a few minutes of gazing at the dessert menu, saying, "Oh, I really shouldn't, but..."

Nightly Entertainment
At 19: Drinking games, dancing, passing out in bed at sunrise.
At 49: A game of Yahtzee, watching television, collapsing in bed at 11:30.

Yep, nothing like a spring break at 19 to make you feel like you're truly an adult. And at 49? Well, apparently I'm ready for that AARP card now.

I hear the Cracker Barrel right off the Strip is a pretty crazy place.

How did you spend your spring vacation? Want to 'fess up about your college spring breaks? Or is it getting hard to remember that long ago?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Only a Moment Ago

We remember the moments in tiny flashes, usually triggered unexpectedly. Pieced together, they take us back to another time: to a world filled with sounds and smells and sights once a taken-for-granted part of our everyday life.

Last week, I returned to the fall of 1970.

I'm getting ready for school. I yank the pink sponge curlers from my hair and brush out the tangled curls. I pull on the brown leather jumper my mother has laid out on my dresser. My stretched-out knee socks fall to my shins, and I secure a rubber band around the top of each, to hold them into place.

Scanning what remains in the Kellogg's Snack Pack in the cupboard, I select a box of Sugar Smacks. I carefully slice it open on the dotted lines. I pour in the milk and eat the cereal straight from the tiny box.

I thumb through the pink Melmac bowl filled with plastic bus tokens, avoiding the toothmark-riddled ones apparently once gnawed by some nasty boy at my school. I grab my metal Monkees lunch box, containing a wax-paper wrapped bologna sandwich, apple and a Snick-Snack bar from my pillowcase of Halloween candy.

It's an okey-doke school day.Yes, we have to suffer through an hour of Mass, but I stay entertained by staring at the older boy I adore from afar who is serving as an Altar Boy. I sigh, watching him lighting the candles, in his black and white robe. Too bad there is no such thing as Altar Girls; I would surely become one.

It's a warm November day, and after school I grab my roller skates. I slide the metal soles across the bottom of my tennis shoes until they fit snugly. I turn the key, locking them into place. My best friend Joyce and I take a break from skating in the street to jump in the pile of newly raked leaves at her curb. Her father shoos us away. He bends down, lighting the pile afire with his metal Zippo lighter. We watch the flames spark and enjoy the smell of burning leaves before our mothers call us in for dinner.

It's Friday night. Dad's bowling tonight and my two older sisters are at sleep-overs, so Mom and I get a treat: TV dinners. I help Mom pull the two metal trays from the oven and we carefully carry them to the living room where we place them each on a folding TV table. I peel away the foil on top, as Mom turns on the television set.

The TV warms up, a tiny ball of light in the center of the screen glowing and then expanding into a full color picture. We just got the new color TV last year, and I'm still excited every time we turn it on.

We have a choice of five stations. I watch the news with mixed interest until my favorite line-up of shows starts at 7:30: The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, and The Partridge Family.

We take a quick break to make a snack. Mom heats some oil in our biggest iron skillet and pours in a bit of popcorn. I need both hands to shake the covered pan, listening until the kernels stop bursting before emptying the popcorn into a green Tupperware bowl. I grab a large tin can of Hawaiian Punch from the cupboard. I listen to the air hiss out as I punch it open with a can opener. I struggle with the metal ice tray, and Mom takes over. She succeeds in pulling the lever hard enough to loosen the cubes and drops a few in my pink aluminum glass.

Before I head to bed at 9:00, she reminds me to call my grandmother to thank her for my birthday card and the $10 bill slipped inside. I pull the heavy plastic receiver from our phone which hangs on the kitchen wall. The cord is tangled, so I let it dangle for a moment, watching as the receiver twirls from the unraveling cord. My index finger pulls the dial clockwise for each number, and I wait as it slowly ticks backward before I continue dialing.

Grandma is pleased to hear from me. I eagerly tell her everything I bought with the $10 she sent: the Partridge Family record album, a Nancy Drew book, and a Twist N Turn Barbie doll.

Lying in bed, I listen to my new album, singing along from the lyrics on the record sleeve.

I can't imagine a much more perfect day.

I wonder what tomorrow might bring.

What do you remember?