The Last of the Really Great Grown-Ups

I recently read an article in the New York Times examining how America's definition of adulthood has changed and diminished over the course of history. The author examines several manifestations of this, mostly under the umbrella of the ongoing fall of the patriarchy.

While I'm told I have the face of a high school sophomore, I've been something of a curmudgeon-in-the-making for as long as I can remember. At 7-years-old I was completely obsessed with Elvis, and I refused to accept my friends' avowals that The Spice Girls or N*SYNC were half as worthy of my attention. After Elvis came The Beatles, and after them came anything and everything from the 1980s. It seemed I was forever chasing some other generation's pop culture.

In recent years I've learned to give the artists of my own generation more of a chance, but it hasn't changed the fact that I'm terrible at "the bar scene," and I have a strange enchantment with the sort of activities regularly embraced after retirement: knitting, taking long walks (and sits) in the park, going to the library, and happily holing up on the weekend with a newspaper crossword puzzle and a bowl of soft caramels for company. I'm not single, but if I was I'm pretty sure I'd be terrible at dating. I've long since mourned the loss of partner dancing that involved more than rocking back and forth and shaking your most charming asset. I have little patience for people who lack basic social graces. And last (but certainly not least), I'm continually flabbergasted at the kinds of clothing which recent generations have deemed appropriate to wear to a) work, b) the theatre, and c) any other social occasion worthy of their time.

As I write this, it is my late grandmother's birthday. Today she would have been 83. Though she relaxed her generational expectations with the best of them, she still never set foot outside the house (even to Safeway!) without her makeup, nylon stockings, and a head of expertly pin-curled hair. Perhaps it was the patriarchy that enforced these standards from the start, but I like to think that later in life she had enough spirit to resist them if she'd wanted. It was never about status -- in my life, I never saw her shop beyond the realms of JC Penny -- it was about putting her best foot (and face and hair) forward for those she respected, which was most people. She cared about how she was perceived because she cared about those perceiving her.

I think we have much to learn from the generations before us -- and (forgive me, Mom and Dad) particularly any generation before the Baby Boomers, who single-handedly introduced t-shirts, festival culture, and the word "dude" into daily life. While there's no denying the strides that more recent generations have made in other aspects of life (civil rights, environment, and technology come immediately to mind), I do think bringing greater awareness to our manners, posture, clothing, and conversation could only serve to ensure respect toward our fellow human beings.

For my part, here are the general rules of adulthood I try to adhere to:

1) Be realistic about your finances. Learn to budget and live within your means. Learn to support yourself independently.

2) Embrace candles. Adults always seem to know when and wear to place these, and it always makes a difference. (This applies to all kinds of decor, actually.)

3) Learn how to tidy your living space on a regular basis. We've all experienced the roommate with no concept of cleanliness, and nothing screams "I STILL NEED A MOTHER" quite like the scent of sour milk in abandon cereal bowls.

4) Practice the art of thank-you writing. An email is great, but a letter is better. Everyone likes to receive mail.

5) Dress for you, but dress as the most presentable version of yourself. If you like t-shirts, you don't need to don a suit. Just consider swapping your nostalgic cereal logo tee for a tailored henley when the situation calls.

6) Take responsibility for your actions. I'm the queen of creative excuses, so this is probably the hardest for me. Apologizing and admitting you were in the wrong is not only a sign of maturity, but of humility. And, let's face it, we could all use a little more of that.


  1. My daily activities also resemble those of a retiree. But ya know...the world just moves too fast for this old soul.

    1. Old souls unite! We'll have the most fun in the retirement communities, because we'll know just how to entertain ourselves.