With each year that goes by, my knuckles get a little hairier and my brow gets a little thinner. I change so gradually that I never truly notice it. Each day I look in the mirror and see the exact same person I saw the day before. Only when I look back on old photographs does it dawn on me that I have aged.
I am getting older, but not old. An 8 year old would look at me and think me an ancient old man. Yet, an 88 year old would laugh at the thought of me being old, no doubt seeing me as little more than a baby.
I’m 28 years old and I always ask myself: am I an adult yet? To that 8 year old, I am. To myself, I’m not. I know I’m no longer a child. So what the heck am I?
When we become adults, is it a specific moment, or does it just happen so gradually that it’s invisible, much like when we look in the mirror. Do we suddenly wake up one morning with the realisation that we have become something entirely different without noticing? Or are there no sudden realizations.
Maybe nobody ever realises that they themselves are an adult. Maybe adulthood is only something we can see in others. When I was younger, my impressions of an adult were that they were wiser, smarter, more mature than I was. Basically, I believed an adult was prepared for everything in the world, that they had all the answers, that nothing was a problem to them. They had their shit together. They knew everything about life.
As time goes on, I know these things don’t make an adult. Nobody on Earth is prepared for every problem, nobody completely has all their shit together. None of us has all of the answers. Most of us are completely oblivious about what we’re doing.
Only when I look at the children I teach, am I tempted to consider I may be an adult.
Children are completely innocent and naive. Constantly curious. Always asking “Why?” Using the question without bias. Simply wanting to know the answer. As we grow older we lose that curiosity and it’s replaced with cynicism.
Cynicism is the blight of all grown-ups. Those same children that innocently asked ‘why’ with curiosity grow up to ask ‘why’ in defiance. Growing older means learning to distrust the world. We begin asking “why?” because we’ve lost all belief in anything true. We no longer question something for curiosities sake, but simply because we always want to be right (and so prove everyone else wrong.)
It sounds stupid, but the day we learn Santa isn’t real, is a day we take a big step forward into adulthood. It’s then that we’re confronted with the truth of the world. That everything magical is a sham – held together by lies and deception. Worse, everybody knew it was a sham but they continued for your sake.
I remember the day I found out Santa wasn’t real. I was 7 years old and standing in line, waiting for my lunch at school. My friend and I were talking excitedly about what Santa was going to get us for Christmas. An older (thus meaner) child turned to us and with a voice filled with mocking asked “You do know Santa isn’t real, right?” Immediately, I knew it wasn’t a lie. It made instant sense. Yet it still hurt. I hid the pain and just said “Yeah, of course I know”. That was that. No more Santa.
Growing up I’ve found you can never completely believe in anything because it can all be pulled away from you just as quickly as Santa was. Eventually the world turns on all of us in some way, we lose our innocence and we have our heartbroken by someone or something. For some of us it happens earlier than others.
It breaks my heart that the children I teach have their perfect little lives, while other children, of similar ages around the world are shooting other children in wars, or working all day until their fingers are bloody.
Once you grow up, you learn about the darkness of the world, and maybe that is when we become adults. When we put away, not childish things, but our childish notions of the world. When we are children, we are in love with everything with complete innocence. We are virginal. Not in a sexual sense, but in the sense that we are free from (so called) sin and judgement.
When I was a child, I watched the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun and instantly wanted to become a pilot. I fell in love with the idea. Yet there was no reality behind my thoughts. I never considered that I would have to learn to fly, spend years of my life in school. The future was just something to be dreamt up in the mind without fear or consequence.
Now I’m living that future and the world seems so much more brutal in comparison. If I ever dream, it is momentarily, before the voice in my head interrupts saying ‘Don’t be silly, this could never happen!” What child believes they’ll have to work hard to make money? That they may have to make tough decisions? That they may have to struggle to find happiness? The future is a beautiful dream for a child.
This all may seem very negative, so I must wonder when that youthful positivity died. Perhaps my naivety as a child was shattered by the actual world. Perhaps that’s adulthood. Facing up to the horrible facts of life.
There’s a syndrome called Paris syndrome which seems to be suffered by mostly the Japanese. Japanese tourists head to Paris with expectations taken completely from movies. They believe Paris is a magical place, filled with joy and happiness. But the problem is, Paris is just as shitty as everywhere else in the world. When the city doesn’t meet the expectations of the tourists, they suffer an extreme form of culture shock, almost a nervous breakdown.
As a child we have these same expectations built up for us around our lives. The world is a magical place, we’re told. But it’s an even bigger lie than Santa Clause. When we leave school and go into the real world we are completely unprepared because we realise our expectations were all wrong. In essence, we are sold the lie that life is fair, but the reality is, it isn’t. We can’t all be fighter pilots, no matter how hard we dream. Maybe that’s the true sign of adulthood. When you realise the scale of the world, of your own life. When you face up to reality.
Yet, still, there’s a counter argument. Many can be cynical, yet still hold onto childish notions and thoughts. Cynicism doesn’t make us an adult.
Maybe my idea of an adult no longer exists in the world. It seems like adolescence goes on forever now. We are sheltered from the real world by our parents, our schools. For some of us, we can spend so long in education that we never truly experience the real world. Hell we never truly experience anything.
I lived with my parents until I was 25 – something that’s becoming all the more common in Western society. My parent’s generation and the generations before were much quicker to leap into adulthood. Maybe they would be married with children and their own house by the time they’d entered their early twenties. Fully adults, younger than myself.
That lack of experience shields us, prevents us from learning. We find ourselves lacking social skills, ways to think, ways to cope. Entering the world now is a scary process, we are thrown into it and we hold tight to childhood. We grasp on to our childish things and don’t let go because in comparison to the real world, our childhoods seem so perfect.
Still for every definition of adult that I muster, I have another contradictory thought.
I think about the people I know, who I consider adults and the one thing they have in common is stability. They’ve all made decisions, or chosen paths where their future is certain. Their next 20 years are planned out. They have children, they have houses. Responsibilities.
I have no responsibilities and maybe that’s the last step into maturity. When there are things we need to do, when there are people that depend on us, when we know what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year. When we have a plan. When we stop dreaming.
Plans seem to be a thing of the past. Life isn’t as simple as it used to be. Career is starting to become a dirty word. Our lives are getting longer. People have so many options in life that they don’t know what to do. Adulthood, responsibilty, real plans. They’re now being put off until later and later because we keep on dreaming.
Without a real plan, or a solid future, you find yourself lost in limbo. No longer a child. Nor an adult. Stuck between the gaps..
Slowly as time goes by, I find myself dreaming of a home. I dream of a room filled with books, with a comfortable chair and a warm fire. I dream of growing my own food, learning to bake bread. I dream of loving friends and waking up to warm sunshine in my eyes – I’m happy to see each day. Maybe it’s a dream we all have. Our own home, our own family. Unlike fight pilots though, it seems obtainable. A dream we all can reach.
A dream, perhaps, of adulthood?