Grownups are a vanishing breed, creatures half-glimpsed in the mist who disappear when we try to follow with our cameras and get a picture to prove they exist.
Part of the reason for this is very good. No? Try reading the biographies of people in centuries past. You don’t have to go as far as the sixteenth or seventeenth century, though if you do you will find stuff that will make your jaw drop.
You know how proud you are your five year old can read and write? Well, in the past, your five year old – from an educated family – might have known the rudiments of Latin and Greek as well. And if you were a colonial farm family, he might well have work-duties around the farm, which might be relatively light or very hard.
But you don’t have to go that far back. The early twentieth century – and in places of the world, the mid to late twentieth century – will do. Some people in this blog have talked about watching their siblings when they were little more than children themselves and when by the law of my state, at least, they wouldn’t even be allowed to be left alone. I remember seeing a lot of such families, usually in markets, while the mother was doing the selling the older daughter would be in the background, helping, and often the next older daughter would be carrying around a baby almost as big as herself and keeping order over two or three unruly little boys maybe a couple of years younger than her.
I was pampered, as my family was thoroughly middle class, if not upper middle class (It’s hard to tell such distinctions in what would have been, for the US, a poor village – for Portugal where it actually was, it was a relatively prosperous one – but we had indoor plumbing, after a fashion, we never missed a meal, and the kids went on to high school and college, without having to enter a factory at ten.) But most of my classmates started working at ten and worked full shifts in the textile factory down the street (yes, yes. Child labor is illegal in Portugal. Portugal was one of the first countries to ban child labor. That meant that parents went to the doctor who signed a paper saying their child was uneducable and mentally retarded, and then they could work, under the heading of “professional training” or something. I WISH people would stop legislating economics. It does about as good as legislating the amount of rainfall. Child labor stopped, or at last mostly stopped when most people stopped needing it.) And most of the farm kids were considered adults for the purpose of work at eight or ten. And I had household duties my kids would find back breaking.
Bah. Economic facts. It is a good thing we no longer have kids performing that kind of labor for the very simple reason that we no longer need them to. That means that as far as our species goes, we are wealthy/easy enough that kids don’t need to work and we can afford to grant them what to our ancestors would have been an extended infancy (Since childhood involved some work.)
Am I not equating adulthood with the amount of work you can do or perform?
Yeah. I kind of am. The reason for this is that work matters. Put it another way: everything works. Animals work for a living. It’s just their work is chasing down and eating other animals… Or plants or whatever. But everything works for a living.
Everything but the young of any species, who rely on mom and dad to do the work for them.
The work you do for a living matters at the most basic form of nature living (Not the one you engage in when you go back with your ripstop tent and your thinsulate jackets, okay?) if you don’t work you don’t eat, which eventually means you die.
It matters even at the level of people in the early twentieth century if a kid doesn’t do his share of work in his family it will affect the rest of the family and eventually family survival.
Even we who are adults or technically adults don’t have that level of immediate pay-back in our society. If you slack off and the bathroom doesn’t get cleaned one week (my least favorite chore) it’s not going to affect your family survival (probably. We’re assuming it’s somewhat clean anyway, meaning you wipe down the sink and stuff everyday, of course.)
Our kids, therefore, don’t get that work-to-adulthood ratio.
I read something this week about how millenials work harder but fewer hours and expect faster promotion. Please. Millenials are overgrown infants – like, to an extent almost everyone in our society.
See, we’ve got to the point that growing up requires an act of will. I know forty and fifty year olds still living off their parents’ “help.” Not occasional (we all need occasional help. Well, look at the economy) hand up when things get really tough, but continuous “I’ll pick up the tab for your house/food/clothing indefinitely” type of help. Most of those “adults” who live that way do so in order to “pursue their dream” – being people I know, this dream is mostly becoming writers, but there are others, including perpetual students. And some live with the help of societal help structures and not their parents.
This is what I have against the “you must pursue your dream” or “you must do what you love” speeches at graduations (and occasionally cons.)
Do I have room to talk? Heck, no. I took 13 years to sell a short story, and I’m still barely making a living wage eleven years later – and not every year, at that – but here’s the thing: although I’m aware I couldn’t have done it without a husband who brought home the money for roof and meals, at least I TRIED to pull my weight. This means on top of the trying to break in, I worked to do many of those things my friends in two-income families shelled out money for. And while I sort of enjoy refinishing furniture, there was stuff I enjoyed far less. For a while, for instance, I made a lot of my own (and some of the kids’) clothes. I cooked almost every day unless there was an emergency. I cleaned (even the bathroom.)
In other words, in return for the flexibility to “pursue my dream” I worked d*mn hard to give us the same life level as our peers without the money to do so. That meant I sacrificed mostly time and sleep. It was worth it. (I am now at the level that, given a bit more income – please G-d. Let me show You it wouldn’t spoil me – I’d pay someone to do some of it, in return for time to push on the career now, when it might make a difference.)
I was trying to be an adult. As an adult, you pay for what you want to do. And that’s what I’m trying to get at.
It doesn’t matter if your parents or a governmental agency or your significant other or a trust fund are willing to pay for you to “pursue the dream” – chances are neither the dream nor you, yourself, will ever reach full “adulthood” in the sense our ancestor knew it, unless you, yourself, pay for what you want.
If it’s a trust fund, at least, you’re not taking from anyone else, but both with government support and with support from your parents or even your significant other… You’re taking what someone else accrued, in order to “chase the dream.”
Again, we’re not talking about a hand up, or a temporary help. My parents have given me that in emergencies and I’ve been grateful. We’ve never taken governmental aid, but that’s because we were willing to skip a few meals – give us one more kid and a little more trouble and we might have once or so. What we’re talking about are “adults” quite willing to be supported by family or strangers, so they can do what they really want to.
What makes you such a special snowflake? What gives you the right to take the living someone else earned in order to pursue your “dream.” Do others have dreams, also?
Shouldn’t you at least do something to “pay” for it: even if it is taking an extra burden in the family, or doing things you’d otherwise have paid for?
If not, why not? Because you believe all the movies about how geniuses need support and might never be commercial? Let me tell you, those movies for the most part lie. And those geniuses are very rare. And it’s unlikely you’re one of them.
Being an adult these days requires a conscious decision – “I’m going to pay my way if it kills me.” It might never be achievable, not at the level our ancestors were adults and understood the link between work and survival.
But as weak and flailing as my own attempts have been, I can tell you that making the attempt is worth it. It will put everything in perspective: the dream as well as the living.
Yes, it takes almost a miracle, a decision, a strength. Yes, it hurts like living h*ll, as all emotional growth does. But it might just be worth it.
So, on the count of three, let’s try it, shall we. Small steps. Try to figure out if anyone is carrying your burden and what you need to do to lighten it.
It might mean postponing the dream. But when you get it it will taste all the sweeter.