Friday, March 23, 2012

Growing up or just Growing Old

When it came to growing up I was usually a year or two behind everyone else my age. I wasn’t “slow” in any way. I was a straight A student when I wanted to be. I’m not referring to my physical form, either, because by seventh grade I was the tallest in my family and although I was also the scrawniest, it wasn’t for lack of eating. I just grew upward as opposed to outward. No, what I mean by growing up is simply that the younger kids had the cooler toys that I was told I was too old to play with.

By the time Star Wars came out with all of its action figures all of my friends were too grown up to even talk about them nevertheless play with them. “Those are for kids, Robbie. We’re in seventh grade now. Grow up.” Of course, now The Big Bang Theory has made owning action figures cool and so Darth Vader in plastic form hovers on my desk using the Force to make me procrastinate. Still, in ’77 I had all of the miniature of actors, droids and aliens and used them to act out elaborate story lines and productions that no one ever got to see. My classmate, Aaron, heard me talking about them once and ridiculed me with colorful names, but I think he’s in jail somewhere now, so Karma has once again attained revenge for me.

Truth be told, I continued to act out storylines with those miniature people until I was well into college. It was a fun escape that captured a youth and innocence free of responsibility that I was just not ready to give up. To be honest, I’m still not ready, and, at forty-five, I find myself envying my children as instead of yard work or dishes, they rush off to surf or an overnight trip they can enjoy because they don’t “have” to go to work the next day. Their bills are few and their life an all expenses paid trip for now. To them, I say, “Enjoy it while you can and don’t rush it.”

I have never wanted to grow up myself; I admit it. But, really, who does? I mean, growing up leads to death and I don’t think that event is on anyone’s bucket list. The idea is to stay feeling as young as possible for as long as you can. To this end we have tended to hang out with younger people and were always heavily involved in any of our kids’ youth groups. I can play Manhunt and Duck Duck Goose with the best of them.

The problem I have is not with people maintaining their youthful vibrancy; it’s with people who never grow up in their responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with participating in activities that make you feel young and alive, or running around with your children. I’ve been known to climb into a tree fort to join a merry band of pirates cruising the deadly seas of our backyard. Eventually, however, you have to come down from the tree house and pay your bills and take care of your family. As my mom would say, “It’s time to act your age instead of your shoe size.” Sadly, there are those who can’t even act their shoe size for very long.

Growing up doesn’t mean you have to necessarily act old, but it does mean taking responsibility for your life and your actions. It doesn’t force you to stay stuck in a lifelong career that you detest, but it does mandate that you be able to meet your financial obligations. Little kids love playing Grown Up and even dress the part with Daddy’s shoes or Mommy’s heels and we laugh and think, “How cute,” but when we see adults who dress and act like their children we just shake our heads as we mutter, “How sad.” It’s even sadder when they do it with their lives. Have all of the fun in life that you can, but meet your responsibilities.

As I have told our children, there comes a time when a boy must become a man and a little girl becomes a woman. A day must arrive when a person ceases to depend on others to do what he refuses to do; take care of his obligations. Paying your bills may not be fun, but it is a part of growing up, as is taking care of your family. Early in his marriage, my father had to work two or three jobs at a time to make ends meet. Likewise, there were periods of time when I worked two or three jobs to survive. A man that does not do what he needs to in order to care for his family is a far cry from a man in my book.

There should be times when you release that inner child and allow yourself to act silly and not be so stuffy. Yet, it cannot come at the expense of taking the reins of adulthood. Many, I know, would love to be shed of paying bills, the responsibility of raising a family and showing up to work, and it’s obvious in the way they live their life. They bounce from job to job, never satisfied for very long doing whatever it is they are currently doing. Instead of raising their kids they are out enjoying every next party that fills their email box. Furthermore, their actions are erratic and shallow because growing up means becoming real and going deeper in their relationships. They want to avoid that at all costs, so that Mommy and Daddy – or whoever else – will continue to take care of them because they cannot take care of themselves. That would mean growing up.

And to a degree, I get it. For eighteen plus years parents and teachers have told us what to do and how to do it. Food appeared nightly on the dinner table, the internet and cable television were constantly flowing and even though we were bitched at for our cell phone usage, the bill was always paid. Who wouldn’t want to stay in an environment where that easy lifestyle reigned?

Growing up is scary and to be honest I don’t care if a person grows up or not, as long as your childish behavior doesn’t affect me in any way, shape, or form. If I have to cover your slack through the government assistance programs or in any other way, then somebody needs a serious trip to the woodshed, because if you’re going to act like a child, you should be treated like one.


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