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Are You a Grown Up?

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Being a grown-up is an evolving state of mind, a spectrum of attitudes. No matter how old you are, you get to choose how you respond to the things of life.

I think that immaturity can be quite charming, unless I’m dating it. I myself am pretty cute when I’m being immature. Or not.

I’ve always been drawn to the rebellious song from Peter Pan, “I won’t grow up; I’ll never grow up.” I still occasionally jut out my jaw and clench my fists and run a few stanzas of it through my mind before I acquiesce to maturity.

You Can’t Make Me Grow Up!

Today I’m responding to a WordPress challenge  that’s much easier than the one prompting my 1,000 word tome without a Y in it. I won’t say I’m annoyed that most responders wrote less than 200 words, because grown ups don’t get annoyed about things like that. So here is today’s Daily Prompt:

When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?

The Mockingbird’s Song

I remember the moment quite clearly. It happened to be my birthday.

I was 24 years old. I’m sure I was tired; working full-time for rent and college tuition, my days starting before 6 a.m. with late classes ending at 9:30 p.m.

I had just survived a grueling two-hour meeting with the deans from all the departments at the University of Maryland. I had designed my own major, and God knows they did not want me to have that kind of flexibility and autonomy without making me suffer for it.

I had argued with the Dean of Biology about whether or not the world had a “population problem” (I said yes) and with the Dean of the Math Department about whether or not I needed calculus. (Truth be told, one of the reasons I designed my own major was to escape those dreaded math courses!)

Understanding Mathematics: From Counting to Calculus   -             By: Keith Kressin

Nooooo!!!!

But I had persevered. My program — the first of its kind at the school — had been approved. It’s hard to believe now that “Environmental Studies” was a unique major in 1979, but there you have it.Very few students bothered to pursue the option of designing a separate major, but I had done it. All by myself.

I sat under a blooming dogwood tree on the mall at Maryland and wept tears of joy. On the branch above me, a mockingbird sang as if his breast would burst. I knew the feeling.

I was a competent grown up, I had choices, and nothing could stop me now. I had arrived.

Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottis

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Maturity

Of course, I wasn’t all grown up, and I have displayed some of my most immature behavior in the years since that day under the dogwood. I’ve done some damage to my psyche and to the psyche of others.

Perhaps you have, too. I’ve noticed that a lot of people come to my website by way of Google searches about shame or guilt.

For what it’s worth, I recently came across this checklist of the attributes of maturity. See what you think:

  • Knowing myself.
  • Asking for help when I need it and acting on my own when I don’t.
  • Admitting when I’m wrong and making amends.
  • Accepting love from others, even if I’m having a tough time loving myself.
  • Recognizing that I always have choices and taking responsibility for the ones I make.
  • Seeing that life is a blessing.
  • Having an opinion without insisting that others share it.
  • Forgiving myself and others.
  • Recognizing my shortcomings and my strengths.
  • Having the courage to live one day at a time.
  • Acknowledging that my needs are my responsibility.
  • Caring for people without having to take care of them.
  • Accepting that I’ll never be finished – I’ll always be a work-in-progress.

Agree? Disagree? How do you measure up?

Mockingbird and Dogwood photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife

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Imagine Apologizing

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I have this fantasy about my old boyfriend – the guy I dated just before I got sucked into the cocaine-infused, alcohol-drenched political whirlwind of Washington, D.C. We are in the dairy aisle at the grocery store, surrounded by toxic-tinted green and orange Jell-o and stacks of bright yellow butter boxes.

Don’t worry. It’s not one of those butter and Jell-o fantasies. I wouldn’t share it, if it were.

No. We’re just standing there, leaning our elbows on our shopping carts.

I say, “Do you have a minute?”

He says somewhat dubiously, “Yes.”

Then I apologize for being such a bitch back in the day. I’ve had this fantasy for twenty-five years. A quarter of a century.

This meeting happens in reality every year or so – not the apology part, just the part where we run into each other at the community grocery coop – we live in the same town. We’ve met amidst the Jell-0, but more often by the cat food. We exchange pleasantries, and he tells me about his kids.

I always feel like there’s this huge chasm of unspokenness between us, but I never place any meaningful words into it. He asks how many cats I have now. I say “two.”

Every time I see him I think say it, just say it, but I never do.

The Question

This fellow and I were an item for two or three years back in college. I was very fond of him – nicest guy you would ever want to meet. I was a bit older and more experienced than he was and spent considerable time trying to untie his mother’s apron strings.

After a while the challenge wore off, and I was bored. No drama, no tears, no excitement. Just a quiet, stable relationship. We read a lot, played Scrabble.

I graduated and made my way into the big world while he continued his studies to become a librarian archivist (a perfect job for him). I went to work on Capitol Hill and met congressmen and senators and hung out with heavy-drinking lobbyists and attended oh-so-important press conferences and oh-so-sophisticated political fundraisers.

Then he became even more boring.

About this time, he asked me to marry him. I panicked and pretended he was joking. I laughed uproariously, and then he laughed. And then I had a decision to make because the question still hung in our mirthless laughter.

Hanging

The Decision

“Think I should marry him, Mom?”

“He’s a very nice boy, Melanie, always sacrificing himself for other people. He is the kind of person who would bring his aging parents to live with him. I’m not sure you would be happy with that,” Mom said.

She knew her daughter, and she knew what she was talking about. Mom had sacrificed much of her freedom when my grandmother moved in with her.

I asked my roommate, an old high school friend. He put it more bluntly. “You would be bored, Mel.”

They were right. I dumped my boyfriend unceremoniously. The guy was just too “good” for me, in the truest sense of the word. I had a lot of partying to do and a lot of ego to feed, and he did not fit into my plans.

Regrets

I don’t have many big regrets in my life. But the way I treated him is at the top of my list.

By regret, I don’t mean I feel I should have married him.

God, no; I would have made him miserable. I had so much screwing up to do before I opted for sanity.

God has been gracious in the intervening years, allowing me all the rope I needed to hang myself. Dangling there at the end of my rope, I learned something about humility. All the screwing up, every bad choice, has helped me to grow up and see myself more clearly.

Problem is, when you begin to see more clearly, you can’t help but notice the wreckage you’ve left in your wake. That college relationship — which had I been kind, might have been a pleasant memory — is a mangled mass of shame, guilt, and regret.

Freedom in the Ho-Hos

Still, I could never bring myself to say those simple words.

Until last night.

We met in the Obesity Aisle next to the Hostess products, and the cloying smell of yellow plastic icing with hard white swirls was almost overpowering. We smiled as we rattled our carts towards each other.

I didn’t think about it. My heart wasn’t racing, and there weren’t words crashing into each other in my head. I just said:

“Do you have a minute?”

He nodded, looking curious but also as if he wanted to bolt.

“I treated you like shit many moons ago, and I just wanted you to know I’m sorry. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life, the way I treated you in all my dysfunction. I was a mess, and I’m sorry.”

“Well,” he stammered, “I don’t even remember it like that. But we were all a mess.”

“Yes, and I wanted you to be more of a mess than you were. Thank you for being kind to me.”

Then he started talking about his kids, and how one of them was “having issues.”

And it was over. I had done it.

In my fantasies, I never even considered the “after” part.

I don’t know how he felt. But I felt immediately – immediately – lighter, as if I had dumped several shopping carts full of shame back by the Ho-Hos and cupcakes.

I can’t believe it took me so long.

So there you have it. A simple story; no big deal.

But if you’re carrying any of that shame crap around, you know that it is a big deal. I hope you’ll learn from my experience and make amends.

Read more about shame crap here

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