By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter
I am pretty sure that I became an adult in my late 20s. Maybe that’s when I grew up, but I legally became an adult at the age of 18. The semantics are all quite confusing.
Not yet finished with the second decade of life, I left home to embark on my college adventure. Endless forks in the road appear upon graduation from high school. Regardless of the choice we made, adulthood seems to be acknowledged at this juncture. For me, that was a foolish assumption. For many, maturity arrives earlier and for some, never. Maturity doesn’t always coincide with adulthood.
Too many synonyms and too many labels go into this stage of life. Most of the “firsts,” (first tooth, first step, first day of school, first date, first kiss, etc.) are done by then so what else is left? Adulthood—that’s when marriages, careers and children are created. Then crises, mortgages, illnesses and death visit.
What about that time right before adulthood but after childhood— those dreaded teen years when as much energy as possible is expended proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that poor choices are a thing of the past and now the teen should be included in all monumental conversations and decisions?
When you are a teen, there is no greater show of respect than being permitted to remain in the room when the adults start talking. But is staying in the room really necessary? Frankly, when I look up and see a 15-year-old sitting at the kitchen table and contributing potentially relevant stories from the halls of high school, I want to run from the room with my hands over my ears.
That act does not look very mature, though.
So I sit and I chat because teens and tweens can be highly entertaining, but they are simply not my peers. As they are grasping for validation and reaching for acceptance, I am seeking less responsibility and perhaps a nap.
I cannot relate to Ricky’s bulging biceps and how distracting they are in math class. My disturbing bumps are a direct result of childbirth—and cake. I have eaten an enormous amount of cake in my life, and I am more than three times older than the teen sitting across from me.
Neither of us wants to wake in the morning, but her exhaustion is related to late-night text sessions and last-minute homework assignments. Fevers, laundry and meal planning steal my slumber.
Her parents are annoying and put boundaries on her social life. I cater to my children’s before-, during- and after-school activities. My mother is gone, and I seek the company of my dad; they no longer exasperate me.
She is reaching for the stars while I have captured so many of mine already.
She is so close to having her own kitchen table full of peers, but I am not one of them. I have been there and I can relate to her woes. I respect my friend and how she is guiding her daughter into adulthood. But adding her to our coffee breaks is forcing something that has to occur naturally.
Long ago, I had a friend who never asked her older son to leave the room when she and I talked while our children played together. In fact, when her cell phone chimed, she often told him to read the message and let her know if it sounded important. He was 10. I never texted her after that. In fact, I always assume someone other than the intended recipient is reading my texts and triaging their significance. The mom certainly assumed his position in the family as oldest child warranted extra privileges.
I certainly didn’t. But maybe I’m just mean.
I have no idea how to determine when adulthood has been reached. Regardless of their age, my guess is that the majority of fraternity brothers dashing boisterously semi-clad across campus does not define maturity. Maybe the 20-year-old single mom studying while the baby sleeps does.
What I do know is that age is often meaningless. Eighteen was an extension of childhood for me, confusing and emotional as I tried to gain independence. But now, as I close in on my dotage, I am pretty sure I have matured.
But without showing my ID I can’t prove a thing.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.