In case you aren’t one of the 30 strangers my daughter has alerted, she got a pedal bike. And to all boys over the age of eight (who I’m sure scroll mommy blogs), prepare to pause whatever game requires unsuccessfully leaping for a basketball-rim-net (sans ball) to watch her turn circles around half-court while shouting, “Hey! Look at this! Look at me!”
Fortunately or unfortunately, my daughter is learning early this type of male cat-calling is no match for the allure of sport.
“Where’d they go?”
“I think they left.” “I go with them? “No, they’re bigger.”
“Because, they’re bigger kids.”
“But I’m bigger, look! I have a pedal bike!”
Adulthood, as it’s socially defined, evaded me for most of my 20’s. That was evident in both the car I had repossessed and the gross number of overdraft fees to my checking account, each of which I ardently described as, “a real bummer.”
Eventually, I came to love the $400, 1999, Nissan Altima I was gifted by my father who heroically installed his shiniest pair of silver-polished pliers onto what was left of the broken gas-tank lever, and who taught me to scientifically “pull hard” on the driver’s-side window whenever it stuck. The fact that I am today someone’s mom who owns an anti-choking device, buys organic hummus, and checks out library books from a mobile app continues to provide my inner-dirt-bag her daily scoff.
My daughter attends a Montessori preschool. If you know anything about this approach to education, it’s all about independence. I believe the politically charged phrase they use is, “child-led.” And before you pronounce me a staunch liberal ready to book Ru Paul for my toddler’s next Nickelodeon-themed birthday party, let me assure you that Peppa Pig in Drag offers something for everyone.
At Montessori my daughter is empowered by uniquely-trained educators to announce her triumphs over both toileting and two-wheeling. Encouraged, to extend beyond what is socially expected for a three-year-old by both cleaning and clearing her place at meals. And again, before you roll your eyes, no, she doesn’t nail it every-time, evident by the trail of ants leading to and from her high-chair at our dining table. But I do feel like this is the moment when I, as her parent, should naturally applaud. Or, at the very least, give her more than the grandchild-less woman in her 70’s who stopped us to fawn over my daughter’s seeming maturity, which she captured (with perfect timing) between attempted stabbings with a twig. I’d also like to make evidently clear, being purely empirical, that there are times when the whole performance, the self-dressing, self-wiping, self-cleaning charade entices little more than a slow clap that crescendos into an inner hypocrisy from which I’m left wondering if the convenience of her capabilities, as convenient as they may feel, isn't creating an expectation that childhood is something to be done away with, and the sooner the better.
I think it was the moment I first heard someone describe me as “independent,” (and the hundreds of times after that) around the age of eight, when I wanted nothing more than to retreat into infancy. I was already an only child, being “independent” felt like just another version of being alone. It seemed to me, as a kid, the more I did without any help from a “grown up,” the more I yielded both praise and isolation. From what I could deduce, being an adult was inherently…lonely.
All parents know growing up sucks, and I don’t mean puberty or gift cards for Christmas, I’m talking about true ascension into adulthood, the aches and anguish of being shaped into a human capable of properly using a passing lane, demonstrating patience with customer service, and methodically tabulating our audiobook credit-to-cash ratio. We all know that “responsible” and “independent” are just nice ways of reminding our children their support is dwindling and so is their freeloading.
There were years I hated my parents for instilling capability in me. I envied those home-schooled kids, raised in captivity, forever needing a liaison between them and the world. I wanted to once again fear strangers, forget how to put on pants, and be too young to use a stove. I wanted my lunch made, my hair brushed, and my clothes washed, instead of throwing on the same navy-blue hoodie, pulling out two tiny hairs just above my forehead from my too-tight pony-tail, and hoping the cafeteria didn't run out of Funions. And at the same time, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my parents and their thousands of reminders to “wake up,” their 911 pages to my beeper, and their threatening requests to defrost the chicken “before I get home, but not right away.” These were the squares holding me back, keeping me young, forcing me into their own ideals...man. It’s the quintessential tug of youth. The gas and breaks. The pedal and pause, of wanting nothing more than to be, “Bigger. Bigger.” While at the same time, in perfect synchronicity, whining for help.
I don’t know what being a grown-up means, but if you ask my daughter she’ll tell you it’s a combination of gaining size (which she demonstrates daily with her two-handed reach for the sky) and being old enough to chew gum. My wife would say it’s a combination of sleeping in and cruise-ship tennis, my dad would gladly confess it’s the number of dickheads on Facebook (or in person) he’s excited to piss-off, and my mom would undoubtedly admit it’s dessert before dinner, “So I know I always have room for it,” she tells me. Personally, I’ve begun to define adulthood by the number of minutes I’m able to spend alone at my storage unit without worrying I’ll be killed. I’m up to ten.
I think the vast majority of “grown ups,” at least those still parenting young kids (Millennials, this ones for you) are still defining what it means to be an adult, and likely questioning their admission into the club. I can absolutely assure you that at 36 years old my acceptance behind the Gates of Grownups is solely based on my “no tomatoes at night” policy, when deep down, way below my platform cheetah sandals and toe ring, I am convinced a very real part of me is still just a shit-head 20-something driving through Jack-in-the-Box in my underwear desperate for some sort of global regression that views dependency as admirably as autonomy.
My daughter's been having accidents at school (cue the child psychologists). I'm convinced, after experiencing her distaste for potty breaks at the park, this is largely a result of a poorly conducted win/loss analysis where sand consistently outweighs porcelain. Never-the-less, I cross-examined the defendant from her carseat.
"Hey Bug, why are you having accidents at school?"
"I don't know."
"I think you do know."
"You doooooo. Why? Why are you having so many misses?"
"Because, I want you."
Growing up was lonely. At least pee-pants meant she was among friends.
I finally convinced my daughter another lap around the park was better than circles at half-court. She took off down the sidewalk, slowing down beside a set of pickle-ball courts as a man with a racket under one arm paused, waiting for us to pass. My daughter hit her brakes.
“Ohhh! And you play pickle-ball?”
“One day I’ll play pickle-ball.”
“Oh yeah, it’s fun.”
“Umm, ok let’s go!” I chimed in.
My daughter didn’t move. Instead she bobbed her little helmeted-head the way she did when she was about to proclaim an absolute three-year-old truth with which she’d been endowed.
“When I a grown up,” she told pickle-man, “I’ll have hair on my bum.”
That settled it. I was officially a grown-up.