Adulting. Supposedly a term created for Gen Y to describe the mundane stuff adults do, like paying bills, working, buying groceries. I think of Rachel from Friends cutting up her dad’s credit cards and learning to do her own laundry. But real adulting is encountering harsh realities and rude awakenings in our everyday lives (you know, those surprising and unpleasant discoveries that yes, you were mistaken, your ideal world is not in fact real), and then dealing with them in (hopefully!) positive and productive ways. Biology aside, why do we become adults? Why can’t we stay children forever?
It’s been interesting, to say the least, to be a parent and witness my child growing up. There’s the obvious, expected, and somehow always surprising physical changes, like how she’s close to fitting into my shoes at age 9. And there’s the not-so-obvious, but still expected, yet somehow surprising emotional changes. The other day she was playing with a young boy, a close friend of ours, who has always been very sweet toward her. They were spraying water at each other, but blocking the water with umbrellas, so no one was actually getting wet. All very sweet and innocent, until the little boy crept up on my daughter and dumped a bottle of water down her back. It took her a moment to register what had just happened, not because she couldn’t tell it was water running down her body, but because she couldn’t understand why it happened. She looked at me and, slowly but surely, started to cry. It was very painful to watch because in that moment I knew why she was so sad. She wasn’t just experiencing getting water dumped on her, she was experiencing a loss of innocence.
Loss of innocence happens through experience. We either play a role in an event (good guy, bad guy, bystander), or simply learn more information about the world through the many sources we have. But the events and information that cause this loss are usually shocking or hurtful. I think of the process like this: When we are born, we are gifted with a jar of innocence marbles. As we experience loss, disappointment, shock or hurt, we lose a marble. Some experiences only cost us one marble, some cost a few a more, and some are so horrific that the jar shatters and we lose all of our innocence marbles in one fell swoop. Looking at my daughter’s face that day, I could see in my mind’s eye a beautiful, shiny marble roll down the driveway, clink through the sewer grate, and fall into the runoff below, never to be seen again. Her jar is still very full, so her shoulder remains relatively chip-free. But I wonder, when will her marbles run out?
Hurt and shock can come from big things and small things, but it’s the accumulation of them that grows us into adults. I remember something as simple as walking into a room when Friday the 13th was on, and seeing Jason’s burnt, scarred face, and being so shocked that the image was permanently seared into my brain. I remember witnessing my friends doing illegal things and the new feelings that stirred up in my chest as a result. I remember being the victim of other people’s actions and wondering why I had to be involved. And yes, I’ve done things I’m not proud of, and those cost me a few marbles, too. Sometimes it’s just happenstance or bad luck that leads to these eye openers. Sometimes it’s calculated because someone wants to hurt you. And the worst is when it’s someone who is supposed to love you, who is supposed to be loyal, who you are supposed to be able to trust. My daughter lost a marble that day because the little boy was someone who she thought would never do anything that wasn’t nice to her on purpose.
I lost most of my marbles by the time I was 17. But what’s important to understand is that I still experience hurt, loss, shock and disappointment. I may have lost my marbles but I gained the tools I need to cope and bounce back in their place. As children begin to lose their innocence, they don’t always know how to manage that grief. This is where the real adulting comes in. We become adults, sadly, when we’ve lost all of our marbles. We become adults when we learn how to cope with grief and harsh realities and rude awakenings. But what we adults need to remember to do is share our knowledge and help children navigate their losses. Help them identify and acknowledge what happened, and to make sense out of something that makes no sense. Help them to know they will be stronger as a result. Help them to know that they do not have to repeat the negative behavior they may have witnessed or fallen victim to. Help them to fill their jar with healthy coping tools. And if you can, help prevent the loss of those innocence marbles in the first place, and prolong the naïveté of childhood for as long as possible! Let’s flip the script and change the meaning of adulting from ordinary to extraordinary!