Perhaps wondering if anyone would catch the reference, she began her lament this way:
Of course, I never actually have to wear a tie. And as an ecologist, it probably wouldn't be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, if it were in service of collecting data. (I haven't climbed a tree in years, but mainly out of fear that the small branches wouldn't hold my adult weight like they did when I was 10.)
The reference, of course, is to the opening of "I Won't Grow Up," from the 1954 Broadway adaptation of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (not the Disney film from the year before), starring Mary Martin as the boy who, well, won't grow up. The song, by Moose Charlap (music) and Carolyn Leigh (lyrics), sounds almost like a variation on a theme from The Tin Drum except that Günter Grass didn't publish his novel until 1959. "Never gonna be a man," sings Peter about halfway through. "I won't! Like to see somebody try and make me."
A lot of people, even some who didn't see the NBC-TV broadcast of the same production, seem to have taken this whole idea to heart. Those wonderful folks who brought us Official Government Death Panels have decreed that we are children until we are twenty-six years old, a notion which would surprise my children, both of whom were out of the house and making their own way long before that. And this bit of frippery from The New York Times Magazine throws arbitrary milestones onto the path:
"Sociologists traditionally define the 'transition to adulthood' as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child."
The least they could have done was tack on "Not necessarily in that order." I'm way past twenty-six, and I've completed three and a half of those, maybe. And one woman I know was irate enough to tweet her annoyance: "What? Having a child is a milestone for being an adult? You've got to be kidding me."
Not everyone gets to participate in the continuation of the species. I had a sister who bore two children, both of whom died in infancy; she barely outlived the second one.
Three out of five, reports the author of that lament:
Four, while I'm not absolutely ruling it out EVER, seems perhaps equally likely with my observing a meteorite land on my neighbor's chihuahua on the same day that I win the lottery. And five well, biologically speaking, that's not going to happen. I know women over 40 conceive and bear children, but I can tell you that for me, that's not going to happen.
This can be a body blow to one's sense of self, especially if, like me, you have not been able to internalize your own accomplishments. I think I have it a little easier, since I look every one of my fifty-seven (almost) years, and no one dares give me that line about "Oh, but you have so much of your life ahead of you!" Were it not for that, I'd probably be in just about this same boat:
I guess part of it is that I long to be seen as "normal," whatever that may be, but I have the sinking suspicion that I'm NOT "normal," and that I can't quite keep the façade up perfectly, kind of like the space aliens who almost perfectly impersonate a human except their eyes blink out of synch or something. Or like the spy from another country who can speak the language perfectly and fit in almost perfectly, but mispronounces one word, or isn't aware of some certain custom, and that dooms them to being found out.
We already have creatures who almost perfectly impersonate humans except for some minor details. They're called "politicians."
If you're tormented by the question "Am I truly a grownup?" you need answer only this: "Who is responsible for my life, the way it is and the way it's going to be?" If your answer is "I am," you've passed the test. If it's anything else, you're probably wondering how come you didn't get any fairy dust.
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Copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Hill