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Archive for January, 2011

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be An Adult

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

The new American zeitgeist is all about being a child. We want services, but we don’t want to pay for them. We want others to take care of us, but we don’t want to care for anybody. Accountability is out. Most people don’t want to work. People want to be famous for doing nothing, look young forever, wear the latest fashions, drive the latest cars, go on fabulous vacations, have trophy houses and amazing jobs where they get paid to do nothing. The biggest dream of all? Winning the lottery and spending the rest of their lives on a beach. Basically, everyone’s greatest desire is to be a spoiled brat.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up. My parents had cool cocktail parties and everything was about being fifty because that was the power age. Now it’s old age. No one wants to be fifty. No one wants to be an adult. The ideal age in our current culture is twenty-four. If you are any of the other seventy-nine ages of your life, you are flawed. Taking on responsibility is selling out. Being a child for life is the goal.

I reject this paradigm. I want to be more of a grown up. I want to rise to challenges, ride the waves of life and take care of myself. I want to pay my bills, live within my means, fix my house and do all the adult things required of me without complaint. I want to feel grateful for what I have, not upset with what I don’t. And I want to accept my changing features gracefully.

Yet as I look for role models in society to help me on my quest for true adulthood, I find none. All I see around me is a mass of spoiled children crying because life is happening to them. Oh, poor me, I had a birthday. Oh, poor me, I had to go to work today. Oh, poor me, I’m underwater on my mortgage. Oh, poor me, I have a crappy job because when I had the opportunity to go to college, I turned it down. Oh, poor me, I quit high school and now I can’t even get a job. Oh, poor me, I want a new plasma TV, but I had to get tires instead. Oh, poor me, I have to take care of my children.

Certainly, things are changing rapidly. Certainly, living on this planet is difficult work. Certainly for baby boomers—even if you followed all the rules and did everything you were told to do—you’ve still lost your retirement and your job. Granted, it sucks. But so what? Living on this planet has always been difficult. It was much harder for our forefathers and mothers. They didn’t have washing machines. Or unemployment. Or Social Security or Medicare. But what they did have was a work ethic and an acute sense of survival. They concentrated on planting seeds today for fruition tomorrow. They spent within their means. They learned to reinvent themselves no matter what was thrown at them.

My great-grandmother, Josephine Periat, left her abusive husband in Switzerland and came to America through Ellis Island when she was 26. With my six-year-old grandfather in tow, Grandma took a ship around Cape Horn to San Francisco, got a job as a cook for a rich couple, saved money, bought a bakery, started an auto body shop, started a car dealership, grew most of her own food, embroidered a million chairs, cooked Thanksgiving dinner until she was 80 and never complained. Most people I know bitch about every single thing they’ve ever had to do.

What Grandma knew was this: life is about uncertainty. Life is about challenges. Life is about hard work. There are no guarantees and the only thing you can count on is change. Your only job is to feed, clothe and house yourself until you die. And you don’t expect others to do it for you.

But somehow we’ve lost touch with these basic principles of survival. 75% of young people today are unfit for military duty because they either didn’t graduate from high school or they’re obese or have criminal records. Only 25% of Americans have a college degree. What the HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING? What do they think their futures will hold? Unless they attend a trade school, they are SCREWED. Yet kids are dropping out by the hundreds of thousands. They don’t want to go to school and they don’t want to work, but they want to be rich and famous and drive fancy cars. HUH? How did these kids get so delusional?

Our collective dream says it all: being famous for doing nothing and living on a beach being waited on hand and foot. This dream is the perfect model of infancy. You sit in your high chair and Mommy coos over you and takes complete care of you. Babies for life. Ick.

What I want to know is how did we get this out of touch? Over the last forty years, adulthood has become equated with loss of freedom and therefore, loss of joy. When the exact opposite is true. Children are not free. They are dependent. The only people with power over themselves and their environments are self-sufficient adults. The only way for an adult to be happy is to be an adult.

Yet our youth-obsessed culture ignores this simple fact. “Adultolescence” now extends to most people under thirty. A third of all 30-year-old single men are still living with their parents. One third. My folks and ancestors owned homes and businesses and had most of their kids by that age. Not only did they care for themselves, they cared for others.

If our current trend continues, the future of America looks like this: a giant playpen full of crying babies with nuclear capabilities and no adult supervision.

©2011, Janet Periat

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