234. Being a Grown-up

Growing up isn’t really awfuller than all the awful things there ever were. We spend the first years of our lives not being grown-ups, and many of us resolve that we either won’t grow up, or if we do, we’ll do it right. Not the way other people have done it. They’ve done it all wrong. We know where they’ve gone wrong, and we’re going to avoid the pitfalls they didn’t avoid. It can’t be that hard.
I grew up. In some ways, it took a lot longer than I thought it would. I’m still growing, but I prefer not to think of it as “growing up.” I know adults who like to say they’re still children, and there are all kinds of things they may mean by that statement, but in one way or another, all adults have grown up.
As I grew up, I tried to keep the parts of childhood I considered worthwhile. Some of it was easy to keep; I didn’t even have to think about it. To some adults, my childlike qualities – innocence, enthusiasm, curiosity – have been charming and disarming. Children liked it, too; it was fun to have a tall child to play with.
Some of it wasn’t so worthwhile, charming, or disarming, but it stayed around anyway, annoying other adults, who wished I’d get rid of it.
Impulsiveness, flamboyance, and disorganization can really get on people’s nerves. I tried to ignore people’s negative reactions to my childishness; I tried to convince myself that they were old fuddy-duddies. I paid more attention to the ways people were charmed by my antics, and even some of the fuddy-duddies came around.
But the message of Peter Pan, I think, is not quite right. Growing up, done thoughtfully, can actually be a pretty creative thing to do. And it can be fun. We grown-ups get to do things children can only dream of. We’ve got power and freedom children don’t have. As much as I enjoy the time I spend with children, I’m glad I don’t have to be a child any more. As supportive as adults were, it was not easy to be a child. The fears and frustrations of even my relatively happy childhood make it so that I’m glad to be done with it. If you find yourself frequently longing for your lost youth, perhaps you’ve forgotten some of the negative parts of it.
There are still hard times for us grown-ups. A friend of mine recently told me how hard it is for him to hear his daughter voicing the same kinds of complaints he used to voice. He had learned to know and like himself as a rebel, and here he was in the role of the Establishment, setting limits, enforcing rules, and all that: “Do you think I like saying this stuff? I’m saying it for your own good.” Bye-bye, Neverland.
The oft-quoted “Desiderata” says, “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” Of all the pearls of wisdom contained in that treasure, that’s the bit of advice that seems hardest to follow.

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