Sugar and spice, and all things nice:
That’s what little girls are made of.
Toads, and snails, and puppy dog’s tails:
That’s what little boys are made of.
Like most nursery rhymes, that one’s a bit grim, and gender essentialist to boot. But I’m not here to conduct an analysis of gender roles in 19th century children’s songs, actually; what I want to talk about is this:
What are grownups made of?
Becoming a Grownup
I remember the day I turned 18: I went to the store to buy a lotto ticket. (Wasn’t going to buy cigarettes). Wasn’t at all exciting. I actually don’t really remember the day I turned 21, but I can tell you for sure what I didn’t do: go out drinking.
Frankly, these rather arbitrary numbers at which New York State considers me to be a legal adult, with all that entails, weren’t that important in the scheme of my life. I didn’t feel any different, being able to buy a lotto ticket. (I haven’t done it since). And while I do drink a little bit these days (thanks to the thoroughly corrupting influence of certain persons who shall remain unnamed), that’s not a hugely important milestone in my life either.
As for the kinds of milestones that I imagine might make me feel more like an adult — living on my own, owning a home (ha! I can’t even type that as a hypothetical with a straight face), entering/being in a long-term relationship — they’re either far in the future or so far outside my projected lifestyle as to be irrelevant.
So I don’t feel much like an adult. And yet…
And yet lately I’ve found my thoughts turning in certain directions. I’ve found myself thinking and planning ahead. Thinking about the things that need to be accomplished in the next month, six months, or year. Thinking about where I see myself in a year, or five, or ten.
This is only one change, sure, and by no means the best or only marker of maturity. But I think it’s a significant change in my thought patterns.
When I was very young, I thought about the future. Of course I did. But it wasn’t…concrete. It was the nebulous land of maybe-someday, and it held about as much reality as any fairytale or nursery rhyme. Ask a five year old what they want to be when they grow up some time. Better yet, ask many. You’ll get a few practical answers — a doctor, a veterinarian, a teacher; some more fanciful answers — a ballerina, president of the world; and some total fantasies — a princess, a mermaid, a pillow. (That last is a real answer given by a real child, not hyperbole).
The point is, as a kid your “long term” is so far away that it doesn’t have much bearing on your day-to-day life. You don’t really think about it.
In school, I learned how to plan ahead for things — assignments, essays, projects. But that was day-to-day planning, or a few weeks in advance at most. Short term goals. As school got more challenging, I put my head down even more. What do I have to do to get through tomorrow? And maybe, if I was feeling ambitions, And the day after that?
But now I find myself thinking about things six months out (I need a job, I need a driver’s license, I need a new doctor), a year away (If I’m not in New York, I’ll need an apartment; how does my savings account look? What’s my credit score?), even five years away (What’s a reasonable budget like, and how can I make sure I’m paying off my student loans regularly?)
And even if I’m not focused on the exact process of renting an apartment — I don’t need to know that right now, it’s mental energy I could better spend elsewhere — these thoughts pass idly through the back of my mind. I ruminate on them occasionally, if there’s not something more pressing to be doing. (Or if there is and I’m trying to procrastinate…) I make sure that I’m aware of these upcoming responsibilities, because it’s always easier to stay on top of things if you think ahead.
That’s What Grownups Are Made Of
And that’s one thing, I think, that signals my growing maturity. The fact that I am thinking about these things (more, that I want to think about these things).
This is another reason why I’m enjoying my year in Cambridge so much, I think. Part of this shift is just my age, but part of it is that this small taste of independent living has whetted my appetite for more. (And successfully navigating the hellish bureaucracy of the UK Government, and the slightly dysfunctional hodgepodge that is the University of Cambridge, has given me a lot more confidence when it comes to, say, the DMV).
So I look forward to this life where I plan ahead, where I make my bed every morning, where I like to cook my own food. Where I’m not just trying to make it through the next day, and then the next.
I’m still not looking forward to taxes, though.