Have you ever felt like you have backslid into adolescence? Have you believed that there would come a time, some magic year, when you would be a grown up? Has that year or that moment seemed to have arrived, only to disappear and leave you feeling like a child again?
In my twenties, I really thought I was all grown up. I landed a full time job as a Spanish professor by age 27; by 28, I owned a home; at 29, I married. Before I hit 30, I was Chair of the Spanish Department at a major university. I was an adult! Yay!
All I had really done was put on the trappings of adulthood, imitating my elders, doing what was expected of me, and following a script that I didn’t write and couldn’t have known how to write, anyway. As it turned out, I had married the wrong man, moved to the wrong town, taught at the wrong university and bought the wrong house.
Predictably, the crisis hit. My adult life unraveled quickly, because the child had made all of the above decisions. I left the job, sold the house, abandoned the town, and moved back to California. That was an adult decision. It was where I wanted to be. Then, sadly, the childhood marriage exploded and I was left alone in another ‘perfect’ house in Long Beach that I purchased thinking it was a Good, Adult Decision. I lost the house. Again. I lost my job. Again. The child continued to make decisions.
I met my current husband, and for once, the adult was in charge. I married the right man; and then I proceeded to allow the child to take over. The child wanted a nice house South of the Boulevard, but she couldn’t afford it. No matter; there were plenty of banks around just waiting to loan me 3/4 million bucks on a teacher’s salary! So the child plunged ahead.
Around the time that the adult realized that the house was draining away money like a black hole sucks up light, her child became that strange thing we call a “teenager”. Kirsten–the kid and the grown up–was really, really confused by this. I had thought that we were perfect parents, and that we had the perfect kid. My husband and I congratulated ourselves daily. We were both, however, children. We didn’t understand the coming changes, and as it turned out, we didn’t understand anything that our daughter was enduring quietly and with much desperation.
My husband and I had to sell the house, and I lost my self esteem. The child in me was badly wounded and insulted. Little Kirsten had done everything in her power to imitate what adults do: buy expensive houses, go antique shopping every weekend, brag about their perfect kids–but in the meantime, she discovered that once again, she had imitated what she thought grown ups did only to discover that she had made childish decisions and saw the world from a child’s point of view.
Teen-aged Kirsten and her husband ran away to the beach, rebelling against the bad banks, our difficult families, the frustrating jobs, and our disappointed expectations. After awhile, the adults returned and made some hard decisions. Adult me faced facts: you’re broke, you’re too far from your job and family, you’re done shopping, and you need to go home and recover from your Angry Teenager’s impetuous actions.
The adult made good decisions, but the angry child is throwing fits on a daily basis. I WANT A HOUSE. I WANT A BETTER JOB. I WANT TO TRAVEL. I WANT TO LOOK LIKE I’M 25. I DON’T WANT TO GROW UP. It’s hard, because the angry child happens to be 49 years old, and everyone expects her to have grown up, like, 24 years ago. I’m sorry, everyone. I’m not an adult. Better said, I’m only an adult part time.
What a shock to realize that you are not grown up when you’re ‘supposed’ to be. Everything I believed about timelines–“when your THIS age, you’ll have X, Y, and Z and you’ll feel like this . . . “–has completely evaporated. Your AGE has NOTHING to do with your MATURITY. I’ve met very old souls with astonishing maturity levels who are about 20 years old. I know some people in their seventies and eighties who are fully-functioning teenagers. I DON’T WANT TO DIE A TEENAGER.
It’s not what you own, your civil status, your income, the countries you’ve traveled to, your education, your status as a parent, or anything external to you that makes you an adult. It’s your spiritual evolution that decides if your a grown up or not. If you are engaged in drama of any kind, if you are suffering, if you are trapped by desires you cannot fulfill, then you are still a child.
And it sucks to be a child with crow’s feet and a saggy chin. People expect better from you.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD