“I don’t know mom, it kinda hurts.” My daughter sat across the table from me over breakfast at the diner her first day home for winter break, her brow furrowed, her breakfast sandwich untouched. I could tell she was gingerly probing a sore tooth with her tongue. She had a dentist appointment already on the calendar after the holidays, and I had offered my opinion that she would probably be fine until then–an opinion with which she vehemently disagreed.
That evening she texted me from her father’s house that she really felt something was wrong, so her dad and I encouraged her to call the dentist in the morning to see if she could get in to be seen. She did so, arranged a ride (her poor twenty-two year old car having given up the ghost last summer), got to the appointment, was told a filling had fallen out, had the filling replaced, and then went to pick up the new pair of eyeglasses she had ordered. “That’s some A-level adulting,” I teased her, but secretly I was pleased that she’d listened to her instincts, made the call, found the ride, and fixed the problem all on her own.
What is “Adulting?”
The term “adulting” became a thing over the past several years as scores of millennials and older Gen Z-ers began using it to describe the mundane and often unpleasant tasks of being a grown up. There was, of course, the requisite backlash against the term, as their parents and grandparents argued that what they called “adulting” was just “real life.” It was no “Ok, Boomer” but it provided some heated conversation in a few of my on-line mom groups, and introduced a new phrase, like it or not, into our lexicon.
And now here I was using it myself.
We all have our own ideas about what “adulting” looks like. And I thought, as I often do, how we each seem to have very specific notions around what skills our kids need to be ready to “adult.” I had friends who weren’t allowed to go to college until they could prove they could change the oil in their car themselves. For others it was laundry, or cooking, or balancing a checkbook that their parents insisted they had to learn. As a result, for the rest of our lives we connect certain skills or activities with “being an adult.”
I confess that even at 53, I feel oddly adult when I schedule a routine dentist appointment (“look at me taking care of my teeth, mom!” ) or, for some reason, whenever I buy mundane items such as Kleenex or fabric softener, as if those are the markings of adult shopping.
I was reminded of my own mother-a woman whose three favorite retorts were “figure it out,” “look it up,” and “call and ask.” When we were growing up (in that pre-internet, pre-smart phone dark age that was the 70s and 80s), if we wanted to know the answer to something, she would insist we could find it ourselves.
“What time does the movie start?” would be answered by her pointing us to the newspaper, or, lacking the paper, the phone where we could call the movie theater. “I wonder if the town library has this book?” would be greeted with a head nod toward the phone or in some cases a drive to the library where we would have to go in and talk to the librarian while our parents waited in the car.
When I was twelve, I asked my parents when I would be old enough to be an apprentice at a local, professional summer music theater. They made me call the artistic director, set up an appointment and go meet with her (while they waited in the car), where she kindly told me that I was far too young.
At the time it all seemed so terribly frustrating and unfair to jump through all these hoops for things my mother already knew the answer to, but when I became a parent I realized my mother had been playing the long game and preparing us with the skills we would need to someday “adult” all on our own.
I’ve tried to carry on my mom’s lesson for my own daughter as best I could. When she opened her bank account in high school, I insisted she make all her deposits at the bank, so she would learn how to approach the teller, have a conversation and conduct her transaction in person. Sure, she now does all her banking on her phone (heck, I do too!) but I know she can feel comfortable conducting transactions in person. And that principle seems to apply to a whole slew of things-from laundry to packing a suitcase and from making doctors appointments to checking with the college registrar about her latest transcript request-I know she can do these things, even if I give her a hand when she occasionally asks for help.
After all, learning how and when to ask for help is one of the biggest “adulting” levels there is, right?