When did I grow up?: Feeling old and nostalgic in a college town

Fall in a college town. The air is energized and swirling. The streets are packed with cars, bikes and pedestrians all trying to get where they need to go and coexist. Target and Publix are bursting at the seams. And I am smiling. I ask myself, “Why am I smiling when the calm of summer in a college town is being replaced with chaos, noise and (worst of all) traffic?” But then I see a young man buying cereal, Doritos, and a bar of soap at the grocery store with an air of self-assurance that only comes from the freedom of making decisions without anyone looking over his shoulder.  I watch a father load a rug and table lamp into the back of his SUV with his excited 18-year-old daughter eager to set up her new home. I hear friendships forming and connections being made when I am walking on campus as students talk about their old lives and new lives intertwined in their conversations. That’s why I am smiling. I remember those days, and I hold them tightly in my memory.

My freshman dorm room

    My freshman dorm room

Along with my nostalgia comes a question I have been asking myself quite often these days.

When did I grow up?


It’s tough to say.  As a little girl, the epitome of being a grown-up was being able to buy candy whenever you want.  At different points in my life, I have said to myself, “Huh. So this is what grown-up feels like.”  But then, undoubtedly, I would soon after experience something else that would cause me to feel childlike and unprepared for real adulthood.

When I was in high school, I pretended to be grown-up.  I wanted to be independent and free, making my own choices and not answering to anyone.  Then I would lock my keys in my car while it is still running in the parking lot of my part-time job and have to call my parents. I wanted so badly to be mature and older than my station in life, yet my mom still woke me up for school every morning and packed me a lunch with a note until I graduated. I made dumb decisions that, at the time, seemed totally appropriate, but now seem completely insane.  I thought I was so big.  I felt invincible.  I believed I really was grownup.

Then I went away to college.  All of my big, bad “I can take care of myself” attitude went out the window as soon as my family drove off and left me alone at my dorm.  I was scared, and I had changed my mind.  I didn’t want to be grown-up anymore.  I clung to the few people I knew from home and counted down the days until I could go back for a visit. Over time, I regained some confidence and began enjoying my freedom. I explored my new surroundings, filled my mini fridge with a combination of healthy and not-so-healthy foods, learned how to get up every day without my mom’s rendition of “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory”, and even got my belly button pierced because I could. I remember sitting in the chair at BodyTech thinking, “Well, I guess I really am an adult.”

My parents getting ready to leave after bringing me to college

My parents getting ready to leave after bringing me to college

At some point, the grown-up moments started occurring more frequently, and the moments of faking it happened less and less. But I still have those moments where I feel overwhelmed and unready. Moments when I want someone else to make the decisions or relieve the pressure or tell me everything will be okay. Does that mean I am not really grown-up?  Or does recognizing my limitations and seeking help actually make me more grown-up? Maybe permission is what it really comes down to. As children, we want to know that we are allowed to grow up, and as adults, we want to be reminded that we don’t have to always feel or even act grown-up.

As I observe the young students embarking on this new adventure of independence and adulthood, I feel like Wendy telling Peter Pan that she can’t go back with him to Neverland anymore because she is all grown up. But I realize that it’s not about going back. It’s about continuing to experience change and uncertainty and new levels of being grown-up with courage and excitement. It’s accepting that, as grown-up as I may feel, I still want permission to be scared and to need help and support. I want to remember that being a grown-up doesn’t mean I am alone. But being grown-up does mean that I can splurge on a candy bar at the grocery store just because I can.

What were the symbolic moments in your life that felt very grown-up?

 

One thought on “When did I grow up?: Feeling old and nostalgic in a college town

  1. Stephani

    My partner and I are in our mid-twenties and are recent homeowners. Every time I schedule to meet with a repair person I feel especially “grown-up.” Plenty of times, just sitting in our home I realize what a grown-up thing it is to have a home to ourselves that is fully our responsibility to upkeep and improve.

    Our house is our home base for maintaining and developing a grown-up relationship as we approach marriage, too–even more important! There are many days where the responsibility of our current and coming commitment(s) hit me and that (and the thought of our future family) really epitomizes being grown-up for me.

    It’s definitely interesting to see how others come into adulthood around us in a college town. I recently had a talk with undergrads about what it meant to be an adult, and the diversity of responses was so striking!

    Reply

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