Accepting adulthood was a process for me.
My path to adulthood was unusual. In many ways, I grew up more quickly than my peers. High school teachers were quick to compliment my maturity and good grades. Outwardly, I seemed to be growing up.
Inwardly, though, I felt much younger than my classmates.
Through junior high and high school, I still loved to daydream. More than that, though, I loved make-believe. Not that I would ever admit it to my classmates. Make-believe was for little kids, not for teenagers.
But that didn’t stop me from letting my imagination run away with me. I was the last student dropped off on my afternoon bus route, and sometimes I’d sit in the back seat, leaning on my backpack and pretending I was a runaway on a charter bus heading to an exciting new life in a city. Other times I’d take my dog out to play in our expansive backyard, and I’d imagine we’d been shipwrecked on a deserted island. I had only made it to shore by hanging onto my trusty dog, who paddled us to safety, and now we were fending for ourselves against the elements.
I turned 15, then 16, then 17 … and still I let my imagination carry me away. I acted out the daydreams quietly, inconspicuously, afraid someone would discover what I was doing. Often enough my parents would pop their heads in my room or out the back door and ask in good-natured curiosity, “What are you doing?” At which point I would freeze and say, “Nothing.”
I did a whole lotta “nothing” as a teen.
By age 24, I was living with my soon-to-be husband in a rental home along the Illinois & Michigan Canal trail. An afternoon walk meant for exercise soon turned into a make-believe journey through an enchanted forest. While other people my age were hitting the bars with friends, raising children, working, etc. that afternoon, my head was in the clouds with gnomes and dragons and tree spirits.
For years, I had this idea of what adulthood should be, and I didn’t fit the bill. The words “responsible adult” jangled in my head, and my vision of adulthood was a boring one. Being grown up meant being serious and paying bills and doing laundry and dishes. It meant making money and household upkeep.
While adulthood includes some of those things, it took me a while to embrace that there can be so much more. And it took even longer to realize that being an adult doesn’t mean I have to put away all childhood things.
Dabbling in children’s fiction began to change my perspective on being an adult. Suddenly my daydreams and make-believe had a logical outlet. It didn’t seem like such an immature, out-of-the-ordinary thing for me drift into a daydream or have a multi-character conversation aloud (although I still was careful to keep these instances hidden from the eyes of others. My husband has never heard one of my character conversations, as far as I know.)
I also began to question the words “should / shouldn’t.” For example, I knew I shouldn’t blow bubbles in the house because bubbles are an outdoor toy. But Webster (our 18-pound fuzzy feline) loves to leap and pop bubbles in mid-air. So why shouldn’t I blow bubbles in the house?
Because I’m an adult and should behave like one, I would think.
Followed by, Psssh. It’s my house. Who’s going to care but me if I blow bubbles in the house?
Hence the reason we now have a bubble gun sitting on the dining room table and frequent slippery spots on the floor, where I’ve recently cleaned up bubble solution from a few dozen popped bubbles.
You Are Not Alone
I became an adult at a fortunate time. My generation has embraced geek culture and a redefinition of adulthood that includes acceptance of childhood joys. It’s almost become cool to break the mold of adulthood. Memes like the one at right make me realize I’m not the only adult who feels this way.
Maybe the internet is part of the realization. My parents’ generation only saw each other’s outward presentation to the world. But the safety of hiding behind a computer screen has let my generation share some of their internal thoughts and personality. (Sometimes too much internal thinking and personality, but that’s entirely another discussion.) For millennials, though, we can share memes such as the one above and realize, “Hey, there are others like me, even if they aren’t next door or in my office or even in my town.” Suddenly it feels safer to join the ranks and say, “I’m not your average adult, either.”
In fact, you start to realize there’s no such thing as an average adult.
At 29 years old, I’m finally embracing that it’s OK to sit on the train and read a middle grade novel, without caring what other adults think of me for reading juvenile literature. I feel more secure in engaging in games of make-believe with my nieces and not being ashamed to admit it.
And maybe even one of these days, when my husband asks what I’m doing when I’m staring off into space, I’ll share the latest storyline running through my head instead of saying, “Nothing.”
- Footnote: For the Doctor Who geeks out there, that subhead is totally a reference to Season 3. You’re welcome.