Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Growing Up in America
First of all, I came across an article in the New York Times that described how the road to adulthood has gotten longer and that our country is extending adolescent later in life, go here. The article presented several factors such as a poor job market, more expensive college tuition, and the fact that we are delaying both marriage and having children. Still the reality is this: our culture today is not asking our children to grow up--to leave adolescence--until their 30s.
Second thing: I finished a really fine novel, "Lovely Bones" (Alice Seebold) that begins by describing the life of a family and a town from the perspective of a fourteen year old who's just been murdered. A pretty arresting start. And the scenes of family life--and this family's grief--are poignant. It's no surprise the American Booksellers Association award it "Book of the Year" when it was published.
But here's the thing: Seebold could describe the joys of adolescent life and especially teenage and twenty-something love, dreams, and sexuality. The lives of the adults, however, pretty much bottom out. Marriages fell apart (adultery, workaholism). Dreams were deferred and forgotten because of the relentless onslaught of the demands in adulthood. The book expressed little sustainable positive vision for what it means to go past this adolescence.
I'm not blaming Seebold. I don't know her work well enough--all I've read is "Lovely Bones"--and she might says she's just describing the U.S. But if that's the response, therein also lies the problem: our culture prides itself on excitement, adventure, self-expression, and staying young. Pretty much the description of adolescence. American doesn't want to grow up.
But where's the point where we say no to newness and self-orientation? When do we say yes to sticking things out and learning that, once the buzz of the "first time" wears off, that's when life really gets good? I treasure the moment when I first road my bike without training wheels, but I'm glad my skill level and mastery has improved over the intervening years. There's no way I could bike the trails I do today with the skills I had when I was six.
Those two things lead to a third: Being a kid, a teen, and an adolescent was great. But growing up has a lot to offer. And being an adult is sure a lot better than staying a child forever.