“One day, when you have children, you’ll understand how what you said makes me feel. I love you.”
“I’m not having kids. I love you, too.”
So went the text exchange between me and my daughter yesterday. She’s now three months past her 21st birthday and is finding her voice. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to hear this voice, but I remember being that age and trying out my new wings of adulthood.
It’s hard to be caught in this semi-state of adulthood, searching for autonomy but still yearning for the past life to stay the same. You live on your own, enjoying all of the freedom, but when you come home and realize that home and the people in it have moved on, it’s hard to accept.
I remember when I was that age. I now realize that I wasn’t always the easiest person to be around. Do you hear that, Mom? I’m admitting that I was wrong most of the time. However, I would never have admitted to that then. I knew what was best for me, and no one could tell me differently.
I watch the kids I teach as they make the milestones of turning 16 and getting the freedom to drive, of being 18 and becoming legal, and of being 21 and getting all of adulthood thrown into their lap.
Last week, one female student turned 18 and boasted about now being legal. I wonder how her life is going to change. She can go into a bar now, but she can’t drink alcohol in it. She can buy lottery tickets, but with no job, I doubt she will spend her allowance on games of chance. Her big transition is mainly in her mind. She considers herself “grown” and doesn’t have to listen to her parents anymore. She could move out if she wanted, but she’s stuck, at least for another seven months until she graduates from high school. Even then, she probably won’t have enough money to move out.
She is an emerging adult who is caught with all the rules of her parents and of high school. Her voice inside may tell her that she doesn’t have to do all of this, that she’s endured these rules long enough. She’s legal now and can tell everyone to kiss off.
I’ve seen students do that, too. They get to within four months of graduation and quit coming to school. They are just so sick of being tied to those rules, and they have all of this freedom now. It’s so much more fun to work that minimum wage job and get a paycheck than to have to endure hours/months of sitting in that same old classroom with presumably no paycheck. Instant gratification feels so good.
All of these young adults have so many decisions to make – college, military, jobs, grad school – and for the most part, they have to make them on their own. On one hand, they are scared of making the wrong decision, but at the same time, they are using that grown-up voice to say, “See, I can do this without you.”
As a parent, a grandparent, a teacher and a fully grown-up adult, I find it hard to watch them make decisions that I know are mistakes. I can encourage, motivate and try to redirect their paths, but I can also stand back to see what they decide. After all, it’s their choice.
I’m sad that I won’t have any more grandchildren, not only because my daughter’s children would be a beautiful extension of her, but also because I could say the words I heard my mother say today, “You are getting paid back for all of the grief you caused me.”