Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guest Blog: When I Was Your Age...

I am so proud and excited to publish an essay by my dear friend Lukus. Lukus's other essay is featured on the Best of Adulthood, and for good reason. He is thoughtful and candid about his ruminations on adulthood, he is a great writer, and I am very excited for you to read his next contribution. Enjoy this one everyone! Let us know in the comments, do you feel this same pressure from your parents? Any and all ideas are welcome and valued here and I look forward to your thoughts!

When I Was Your Age...

by Lukus Williams

With all the poking and prodding from Mara to get another entry out of me, I was tempted to make this guest post about the virtues of patience. Unfortunately, neither virtue nor patience are topics with which I am familiar. What I do excel at is an argument, and that’s where the inspiration for this entry comes.

During what I lovingly to refer to as a parental bitchfest, my father was comparing the course of his life to mine in order to point out my shortcomings. His list of accomplishments is framed in that stereotypical formula used by parents against their transitioning children:

“When I was your age, I was married, had a full time job. We owned a house. There’s no way you could even have a family by the time you’re 28.”(I’m 25, by the way.)

Normally, my standard response is to roll my eyes and walk off. If I’m in a poor mood I may say something colorful in French, since he won’t understand (va te faire foutre!!!), but that can garner the wrath of other multilingual relatives who happen to be afoot. But this time, I tried a different tactic:

“How old were you when you moved to a city that was 250 times larger than where you had grown up, with no friends or family and hardly any money, because your parents decided to set-up shop in the backwater boonies with next to no opportunity? And how long did it take you to build a new foundation of friends and contacts, learn to live on your own, and work multiple jobs while going to school full time?”


“That’s what I thought.”

I share this story, not just as a rant about how my parents don’t understaaaaaaaaaand me (though they don’t!), but as way to illustrate how the definition of adulthood is a fluid thing, and the skills needed to function are always changing.

I grew up in a really small and hot Mayberry RFD town filled with insular, and just all-around weird people, and when I made the move to San Diego back in early 2006, I did it entirely on my own. It’s not that my parents didn’t want to help, it’s that they couldn’t.

My parents never lived on their own. They never kicked the tires on an apartment, deciphered a light rail or bus schedule, or pondered what life might be like when you can choose between more than one grocery store. My mom was 19 and my dad 23 when they got married. They moved straight from their parents’ homes into a two-bedroom house that they bought for $35,000. We’re still eating off of the plates and utensil they got as wedding gifts and the jury is out on whether or not I’m older than the electric can opener they have.

My mom learned her cooking, cleaning, and house budgeting skills in high school because that’s what girls in the Midwest did back in the 70s. My dad got his university education for a whopping $8,500. So let’s just say that asking my mom how to pay bills online and trying to explain to my dad why my student loans needed to be several times the size of that first home loan were very…frustrating conversations.

It isn’t necessarily that they lived with their heads buried in the sand and didn’t realize the world kept moving while we lived in the middle of nowhere. It was more that they were having trouble reconciling the outside world with what was going to in everyday life.

For my peers who grew up in SoCal, getting married at 19 then moving into a starter home are not the markers of a successful and normal start into adulthood. Instead, moving hundreds of miles from home, learning the dynamics of living with strangers as roommates, or even * gasp * living alone, have become the markers of adulthood.

“Thirty years old for us is twenty years old for them” says one of my close friends and I agree. None of us can fathom having kids before 30, and only two in our large group have gotten married (to each other). But if our Baby Boomer parents still insist that the standard for growing up is being a parent, or being married, then all of my cohorts from my dorm days are looking to stay Toys R Us Kids. And why shouldn’t we? With a ton of debt and jobs scarce, I know “settling down” is the last thing on my mind.

I hate to end this with an “us versus them” undertone, but when I get told to “grow up” by my father, it’s hard not to start seeing lines in the sand. The skills my parents needed to be successful young adults are obsolete. Society doesn’t exist in stasis. And for us 20-something, working-class, collegiate-types, adulthood means hanging on in an uncertain world and worrying that it may never calm down long enough for us to grow up to the standards of my father.



  1. Interesting perspective! I remember reading an article in a magazine about how there is a new phase in our American social growth chart. It use to be...

    infant, toddler, child, pre-teen, teen, adult.

    Now it is...

    infant, toddler, child, pre-teen, teen, pre-adult (which consists of ages 18-26), and adult.

    Our social expectations are different, and so our actions become different. Not many people are running to get married right after high school anymore, which I think is a good thing. BUT the negative to this is that many "pre-adults" have become somewhat 'lazy' and lack a certain amount of responsibility needed to kick their 'adult' ass in gear:)

  2. I'm definitely with you on new pre-adult stage, I'm living proof, I just don't think I buy the lazy label that gets attributed to it. I've heard the accusation before, and I've heard it a lot, but in my personal experience it doesn't hold up. Perhaps its the people I've surrounded myself with, but I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who enjoyed spending daddy's money while exploring life or what have you.

    My friends and myself all worked throughout school, two of my soccer teammates even had LVN certifications and moonlighted in doctors' offices. We scammed our way into frat parties, but could never fathom actually paying to have friends in that way. It's just unfortunate that a year after we've graduated that we're still in the same crummy jobs (or worse), despite having 4-5 years of work experience and a nice diploma/placemat. I think that's the sign of the pre-adult stage, myself.

    To me, the concept of the traditional young college student that always finishes school in four years, lives in the dorms for two, and enjoys the benefits of the college savings his or her parents' planned for is just not the norm. Maybe it's what people strive for or wish for, but again, out of the scores of lifelong friends I made in my pre-adult life, I only know two people who fit the bill for lazy.