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.)


  1. Hi Sherry - I'd been trying to decide if you were experiencing an emergency or extreme laziness. Now I see it was that old friend Mr Fickle.

    A thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  2. I think for me the defining moments are those little instances of logic, maturity, and grace under fire.

    It's only after they're over that I say, "Hey--I handled that like an adult," usually with considerable astonishment.

  3. When I got married at age 25 I thought I was an adult, we bought a house and were prepping for a family. Then when I got a divorce at age 26 I thought I was an adult, I had declared bankruptcy (a very adult thing) and made some huge life decisions.

    Ugh, now at age 29 I am realizing that I have been doing very adult things for a LONG time but I still feel like a kid at heart.
    That may also be because I watch a lot of cartoons and eat pixy stix a lot. Either way.

  4. Downith: I was fickle AND stressed and lazy. You know, having a week like any other.

    Sarah: Great example--you're so right! Maybe it's not always the situation itself that makes us an adult but how we handle it.

    Amanda: Man, your twenties were pretty rough. You deserve lots of pixy stix, my friend. I'll bet they taste great stirred into vodka. Fingers crossed for your thirties...

  5. Ah, thirties can be great. Good luck Amanda.

    Sometimes I feel like I've been a hundred years old since age five and now, on the downslide toward fifty feel like I don't get some things at all. For the most part I figure my adultness comes from knowing that.

  6. Deb: Great insight! Funny how we thought we knew everything when we were young. (Of course, we didn't think our parents knew anything, so we needed to make up for their deficiencies.)

  7. I've never really felt grown up. And, truthfully, without the head of gray, I think I'd still pass as a babe in arms.

    Honestly, though, I think I consciously fight maturity. I said this before on amy g's blog. I like living in my bubble.

  8. Like you said... many small moments...
    Moving out of the house, at age 23.
    First time grocery shopping for no one but myself.
    Moving to a new town, by myself, to take a better job.
    Getting married.
    Getting divorced.
    Getting a downtown job where I take the subway and carry a bag, like the grownups I used to see on TV.

    Yet I still feel like the same putzy kid I was at 18...

  9. MSB: Damn. I'll have whatever you're having.

    Bluz: Yep, moving to a new town by yourself is a big one. I still wonder if we ever met when we were 18. Hmm... let me recall every putz I ever knew... (And seems to me you've aged well!)

  10. I remember clearly the first time my parents lost their omnipotence in my mind, and I realized they were people. Flawed, needy, confused.

    I thought, They're just like me, only older.

  11. Averil: Interesting comment--so true. And it seems that kids come to this realization at a much younger age than they used to. Wonder why that is?

  12. They do everything younger these days. Or maybe that's just our nostalgic perception.

  13. Winters are fickle so why not writers too! Glad you changed it to Thursdays to help with some more "defining moments" for the upcoming weekends!

    Distal - the great city of Cleveland!

  14. When I got married and had an instant family, and had to cave on something regarding my step-daughter. The first time ever that I did something for a child, and realized she's mine and I will do whatever it takes.
    I think though, you're right. It's a journey rather than a destination. One moment, adult realizations and worries. The next, thankfully, a remembrance of who we really are, and whether that feels like youth or agelessness, and whether or not anyone else can see that we've been faking it all along.

  15. Averil: Let's hope they become independently wealthy and start supporting their parents sooner too.

    Distal: Yes, this has been one fickle winter! Has Cleveland started to thaw yet?

    Lyra: Ah, the old Imposter Syndrome. We never seem to fully grow past that...

  16. sometimes i still get freaked out that i'm a mom with two kids who are still young enough to believe that i'm an adult and therefor infallible. can you imagine?!

  17. Amy: So how did you rate a window of seeming infallible to your kids? My kids never bought that. Right after I borrow Lyra's children to take to Disney, I'm borrowing yours.

  18. I remember having plans NOT to do Thanksgiving with my family. Not a bad thing, it was just that the out of towners had other plans, mom was not feeling up to it (surgery), & other sibling just takes things in stride.

    Then after his family came and went for lunch, I gathered up the remaining food, took my son, went to Mom's and fed my family - including the out of towners who had returned.

    I had provided for others - truly provided. It was amazing.

  19. Anon: Wow, when the whole extended family is banking on you for Thanksgiving? Guess that's a defining moment! But I do hope someone else cooked on Christmas. ;-)