June 29, 2010

Maybe It's Me: BBQ Sauce Stains, or, The L Word

I’m not sure what the definition of being an adult is. Or, for that matter, when we cross that invisible boundary from being a “young adult” to a “grown-up.”

The U.S. Government dictates that when someone turns eighteen, for all intents and purposes, they’re considered an adult. And while that legally may be true, I’m not convinced that it holds-up in other arenas of our existence, like responsibility-wise, emotionally or socially, etc. Especially given that we’re a culture who prides ourselves on shepherding our eighteen year olds right into college after high school. And while some may see college as a remarkable moment of independence, I don’t. Yes, there are some liberties to be had, but mostly college is just another institution to guide and oversee our “young adults” into “grown-up-dom.”

So, if we keep playing the numbers game according to U.S. law, then maybe twenty-one is the age of adulthood, when we can legally consume and purchase alcohol. Maybe it’s twenty-five when we can legally rent a car; or, thirty-five when we can run for president if we wanted.

Or, maybe it’s about milestones. Maybe we become adults when we start paying bills, or when we get our first real job. Maybe it’s when we move out of our parent’s homes into our own place, or get married, or have kids, or have to bury a loved one.

Or, maybe it’s more emotionally-based. Maybe we become adults when we survive our first – or fifth – heartbreak and can still navigate our way through our daily routine without coming apart at the seems. Maybe we become adults when we do groceries and our basket isn’t filled with cereal and frozen pizza, but actual ingredients to actual recipes. Or, maybe we become adults when we realize that we’re slowly turning into our parents. And, for some of us, we accept this fact with grateful hearts.

Personally, I lean towards real adulthood being the product, or a combination, of some emotionally-driven or based event.

Everyone’s defining moment, where they cognitively recognized that some inner transformation occurred pushing them into the realm of adulthood, is different.

For me, in conjunction with tiny, but important emotionally-based moments, I knew I was officially an adult when my “Things To Do” became less of a checklist and more of an insurmountable tome that I knew I would never catch-up on.

My “Things To Do List” used to be simple, something similar to: “buy vitamins, pick up prescription, go to bank, get ice cream” written on a single post-it note that could be taken care of in an afternoon. My “Things To Do List” now seems to have spread to multiple post-it notes, the dry-erase board in my office, the dry-erase board in my kitchen, my “Sites Of The World” calendar, word documents on my computer’s desktop, notes scribbled on napkins or various receipts-that-should-be-in-my-wallet-so-I don’t-forget-to-put-them-in-my-checkbook in my car, and also sitting in other various states of disarray with Floyd in Central Filing (my mom told us when we were little that she always visualized our brains as a little man behind a desk, sitting at a computer, with filing cabinets all around him. When we couldn’t think of something off the top of our heads, she would explain to us it was because it wasn’t readily accessible on Floyd’s desk, and that he probably had to go find it in one of the dustier filing cabinets. In my head, Floyd’s a polar bear with a bowtie and a coffee-jones).

At the beginning, I tried to get everything on the lists done. I thought, “If I pay the bills, clean the house, get my oil change, pick up toilet paper, drop the mail off at the post office, rearrange the pots and the pans so they stop falling out of the cupboard because suddenly they’re annoying me, clean BBQ sauce stain off the refrigerator door which has been there for months, and change the rabbit’s litter,” then I would feel super productive and be ahead of the game.

But, by the time I got to “change the rabbit’s litter” somehow, I was back at the beginning. “Okay,” I would think, “if I could just pay this month’s bills (did I remember to hit the send button on my e-payment to Central Maine Power?), clean the house (didn’t I just clean the house?), clean out all the napkins and receipts piling up in my car (what are all these notes from?!), pick up paper towels (why didn’t I remember to do this when I was picking up toilet paper?), drop the mail off (did I forget the Netflix movie on the table again!?), rearrange the clothing in my bedroom that seems to have vomited out from my closet (don’t I ever put things away?), clean the BBQ sauce stain off the refrigerator door (meh, I’ll do it tomorrow), and change the rabbit’s litter (maybe I should feed him while I’m at it) THEN I’ll be ahead of the game.”

And yet, suddenly, I was once back at the beginning of my To Do List, with more stuff piling on and different lists forming in the process.

I quickly found it was a losing battle. It didn’t matter how much I accomplished or how productive I thought I was being, it seemed like I never got anything done. Or I did, but it was overshadowed by everything that I didn’t get done. Once the neurotic side of me came accepted that I really wasn’t going to ever catch up with all the things I needed, and more importantly wanted, to get done, my life seemed a lot more pleasant amidst the chaos. The BBQ stain on the refrigerator door isn’t going anywhere, and yes, while I planned to take care of it (and ten other niggling little things that mysterious appeared on one of my To Do Lists) today, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll have coffee with my mom. Maybe I’ll start a new book. Maybe I’ll sit on my balcony (which doesn’t get used as often as it should) and have a quiet moment while overlooking my neglected garden. But I have a garden, so I’m thankful nonetheless.

Most of us are stretched so far beyond our limitations in so many different avenues, that we do everything we can just to stay afloat. Things get dropped or overlooked, but we manage. We can only hope to be a “grown-up” that doesn’t drop or overlook the truly important things, like friends, family, ourselves.


Which is a much nicer “l” word then “list” is.

Maybe it’s me, but I think that’s what the definition of an adult is: “someone who comes to term with the fact that life is racing on ahead of them at an unfathomable speed; and, if they can have the resolve to simply ignore the lists of life, then they won’t miss out on the beauty and wonder of absolutely everything else.”