When I was a child, I used to dream about being an adult.
“Gosh,” I thought to myself, “I can’t wait until I’m tall enough to put these dishes away without climbing on the kitchen counter.” Or, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to not listen to my parents when they tell me to clean their coffeemaker. I don’t even DRINK coffee!” Or, “I bet when I’m a grownup, I’ll be able to read a WHOLE book in ONE day!”
Little did I know what adulthood would actually turn out to be.
The concept of ‘being an adult’ that I had when I was a kid generally involved the freedom to do whatever the fuck I wanted, and the freedom from doing anything anyone else told me to do.
What I didn’t realize is that not only is real adulthood so far from that idea that I might as well have been dreaming of life on a different planet, but in fact also involves all sorts of things that I used to consider ‘mature’ and ‘exciting’ and that turned out to be not only dull, but sometimes excruciatingly painful and occasionally terrifying. Responsibility, it turns out, does not come naturally to me. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve had to stop thinking of myself as an ‘adult’ and start thinking of myself as a ‘grownup’ because, to be perfectly honest, ‘grownup’ is much more accurate, in that the only thing it implies is that I’ve done all my growing, thank you, and my skeleton probably is not going to change in size for a long time. ‘Adult’, by contrast, implies a level of maturity I still have not achieved, and have begun to despair that I will ever achieve.
Take bills, for instance. Bills are something I struggle with, as a concept. I rent my apartment, and have, off and on, for the last five years, with the exception of when I was living with my parents (another example of lack of responsibility). Most of the time, my utilities have been included in my rent, but at my current apartment, they’re not. The result of this is that my electricity bill has been sitting on or near my computer for the last two weeks as I’ve ignored it and ignored it, scoffing at the idea that I should have to pay more money in addition to the money I already pay to live.
“Why should I have to pay for my electricity?” I demand of myself, constantly. “I already pay rent!”
My child-self would probably reprimand my grownup-self with some wise retort like, “Just pay your bills, you plumhead!*” But that’s probably because my child-self was a lot smarter than my grownup-self.
Dishes are another great example. I haven’t lived without a dishwasher in a long time, but my new apartment doesn’t have one. I frequently grow confused when, having done the dishes two nights ago, I find myself confronted by yet more dirty dishes lingering in the sink that need to be washed.
“What’s this?” I’ll demand angrily. “I just did the dishes! I thought that was enough dishwashing to last an entire WEEK!”
My inner voice of reason (child-self) will usually remind me that, since I used plates and bowls and knives and forks for the last five meals in a row, and did not wash any of them, they must now be washed before I can use them again. But, my voice of reason, being, well, reasonable (and therefore a bit quieter than the opposition), doesn’t drown out the vast irrationality of my grownup self. And my grownup-self doesn’t quite understand the concept. As I’m washing dishes, I’ll hum to myself contentedly, thinking about very few dishes I’ll have to do over the next week or so, since I’ve washed them all now. But in the back of my head there’s that lingering doubt, that confusion, that tells me that more dishes will appear, suddenly and without warning, in the coming days.
I go through a similar thought process with all forms of cleaning, including sweeping, mopping, wiping down the counters, and dusting.
And don’t even get me started on laundry.
I actually really like the process of washing and drying clothes – I love the sense of accomplishment I get when I do virtually nothing except load the clothes in the washer or dryer and then sit around and wait for them to be clean and dry. It’s like a drug – you get a huge high without doing any work. It’s fantastic.
But folding clothes is a beast of a different kind. To convince myself to fold my clothes, I usually have to allow myself to have a least one beer.
“Okay,” I think to myself. “That’ll take the edge off. Let’s fold these clothes!”
For a brief moment, I’ll get excited about how mature and responsible I’m being.
“Look at me folding these clothes! I’m folding clothes like a pro! I’m not even going to leave any unmatched socks behind to be found three weeks later behind my bed covered in dust bunnies!”
And inevitably, I’ll fold all my clothes, or half of them, or I’ll just match all my socks or something, and then I’ll think, “All right, that’s enough folding for now.” I’ll leave my clean sheets or my bath towels or my still-dirty-clothes-I-forgot-to-include-in-my-laundry-bag on the floor or on the bed. And then I’ll go sit down to reward myself with a second beer for how responsible and mature I was. And then I’ll start to write a blog post, or get on Twitter, or edit a chapter, and, wham bam, five hours have gone by and I’ve forgotten all about the bed that still needs to be remade, and I’ll sleep on a white mattress with nothing but a comforter for a week until I’ve accumulated enough immaturity-points and sense of anxiety about my unmade bed to finish the job.
It’s to the point where I get confused when I’ve actually done things properly. Earlier this week I was searching for my work pants in the morning.
“Where the fuck are they? I can’t find them anywhere,” I said, searching for them all over the floor, in my laundry bag full of clean clothes as-yet-unfolded, and on my bed (which doubles as a storage area, because, really, who needs all that space?). When I finally opened the drawer where I normally tell myself I’ll put them (and then don’t), and found them folded neatly in a stack of clothes, I was shocked. I’d wasted about five minutes looking for them everywhere but where they were actually supposed to be.
The same thing happened last night to a pot on the stove. It was clean, but I had just used it that morning to make breakfast. I stared at it for a minute, trying to figure out why it was clean.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. “I must have actually cleaned it right after I used it. That’s so weird.”
This is why I call myself a ‘grownup’ rather than an ‘adult.’ I do not merit the latter term.
One day, I hope to achieve the level of responsibility and maturity that my child-self dreamed of. But until then, I’ll probably continue to be baffled about why there’s always more laundry to do, more dishes to wash, more floors to be swept and mopped, more bills to be paid.
Speaking of which, I’d better go finish that load of laundry I was doing. And maybe tonight I’ll actually pay that electricity bill.
But first, I’m gonna pop a beer.
*’Plumhead’ is the non-swear word I imposed on my father one night when he was driving me to a ballet class, and I overheard him swearing violently at another driver on the road. “Daddy,” I said, sagely, “why are all the bad drivers only on the road when YOU drive?”