Of Gods and Dragons

Most of my memories start with, or heavily involve, my mother. This could be because I’m her daughter, a girl-child more impressionable under her mother’s influence, or it could be because I’m her firstborn and I’ve idolized her since the moment I first saw her. It could be because ever since my little sister was born, I’ve been trying to get her all to myself again. It could be because she worries a lot more about me than about Emily.

But probably it’s because I’ve spent more time with her than with any other human on Earth. Dad was wonderful, but he departed this planet’s shivery mortal coils fourteen years ago, when I was just twenty-six. I can’t believe I’ve spent so much of my life a half-orphan. Besides, while my father and I got along famously, he still made me nervous. He had a roaring temper and would get set off by the smallest thing. It got better as he aged…a little. But he was always unpredictable, and in some ways that was fantastic -whitewater rafting! Going to the beach! Cheering on the New Jersey Devils!- but it was also a little upsetting, a little unnerving. I was an anxious kid prone to bouts of depression; I love my Disneyland Dad but no matter how many times during my teenage years I told her -forcefully, practically spitting, sometimes actually spitting- that I hated her my mom was my first love, and I would never stop loving her. 

Over time, my love for her has just grown. Through a decade-long battle with the same illness she and my sister both had, there were multiple occasions where she thought she’d lost me forever, that the next time she would hear about me it would be a phone call from a police officer or worse, a drunk friend of mine. But alcoholism wasn’t going to kill me anymore than it was going to kill her or my sister; I was just a late bloomer. My sister got into recovery at 21 and stayed put. I meandered in and out for the better part of 15 years, acquiring 3 DUIs in the process. You never know how much you value your freedom until you wake up in a jail cell. And they’re never like movies with the black bars and the slamming doors. The last time I was in one they considered me a suicide risk -rightly so; I’m pretty sure I told them I wanted to kill myself- so they put me in this narrow corner rectangle walled in by Perspex or something similar. I slept eventually, probably right after I thought I would never get to sleep in that place.

Mom was there, too. She stopped by the jail after they called her to see if she could pick me up, but it was too late; they wouldn’t release me until the morning, so she left me a note. I still have it. “It’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up,” she’d written in her characteristic handwriting. When I was a kid I used to reverse-brag to other kids about how I could never forge my mom’s signature for a note for anything because her handwriting was so unusual. It didn’t occur to me that teachers had better things to do with their time than compare parental permission letters to make sure the handwriting was consistent. It was a strange thing to talk about, but I was a pretty weird kid.

Mom came to get me the next morning. I’d trashed the car that she had given me to drive; almost three years later, I still don’t have my license or a car. While I’m sure she was at the absolute end of her patience with me, she somehow knew not to lay into me. Maybe it was the look on my face. I couldn’t take it and she knew. Instead, she started railing against the disease, apologizing for giving it to me along with my dad. Saying how sorry she was that I got stuck with it, too. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that both Emily and I would become alcoholics: both parents, both grandparents, and Irish/Native American heritage virtually guaranteed it. We were screwed. My sister got the memo pretty early on. Me…it took a while. But that was the last time I drank. Some of us just take longer than others.

…still working on this one

How Do We Know When We’re Grown Up?

I asked this question directly to some of my friends and then on social media. I got a lot of responses. One of them is a bit salty, but many are profound and inviting, and funny. Some friends answered twice! So I thought I’d invite you to check them out and see what you think. Give me your own answer in the comments! I’d love to read it.

“Never if you do it right.” -Sam H

“For a guy, when he has to start paying for sex. For a girl, when they stop being offered money for sex.” -Joe D (Aside: Me: “What if you’ve never been offered money for sex?” Joe “Then you’ve always been a grown-up.)

“Who says we do?” -Andrew B

“I don’t really know the answer to the question tbh.” -Emily B

“Let me know if you find out” -Nichole A

“Screw that, I’m Peter Pan. Lol” -Seth N

“hahah I think that is based on each persons mind set. I don’t ever wanna grow up.” -Brennan R

“This is hard because I feel like it depends on the person!” -Alexia H

“Grown up VS old: Grown up – independent version, when I met my goals. For me was a few years after college. When compared to others; even years before that. Old – a few years after kids :-D”  -Charles P

“When you die” -Fawn M

“I gave up on growing up. Now I’m just growing out” -Heather R

“My motto for all of my adult life has been; growing older is mandatory, growing up is optional. So I am a responsible person, but I will never ;et go of my sense of adventure! Even my kids follow this.” -Jill B A

“I still don’t feel like I’ve grown up. Which is why I agree with Fawn’s answer. Life is a constant progression of learning, growing, and being a better version of myself than I was before. I also agree that responsibility, independence, and other characteristics can apply to being “grown-up” but it does depend on the outlook of who you ask.” -Alyssa M

“I realized I was grown up in a few ways. I started wanting savings! That was big. I didn’t want to blow all of my extra money and got uncomfortable when I had less than a certain amount in my bank account. I started eating healthier and thinking about what I was putting in my body. Thinking about the future instead of what I wanted right in that moment. Im still pretty young and have a lot of growing up to do yet, but I am much more grown than I was even a year ago and those are a couple of the indicators that showed me that” -Alexia H

“I’m 51. Not yet.” -Kevin H

“I feel like the answer to that was when you are responsible for solving your own problems. You’re grown up when your messes are your own to make and your own to set right.” -Katy Q

“I just think of life as constant growth, so the only time you truly are grownup is when you’re done with the lessons. 68 year olds, 15 year olds, 89 year olds, and 4 year olds all know how to have fun and shouldn’t be expected to sit idle because of age.” -Fawn M

“I felt pretty grown up when I made french toast for the first time…all by myself!” -Kimberly S-D

“Adulting is inevitable at some point but we can totally be lifelong kids at heart. My body may change but the kid in me will long outlive the “serious adult” because FTS” -Heather R

“When we lower expectations of ourselves and others. At 67, I know I’m not all grown up. I clean the cat when it needs it. Ooooh. Yummy, French toast. Big kid food!!!” -Lindsay K

“This is such a great question, with endless potential answers! I’ve had such fun reading the responses. I could go on and on, but the one thing that really crystallizes the whole idea of growing up for me is when we stop blaming. Blaming our past, blaming our childhood, blaming our horrible boss, blaming our ex(es), blaming our parents, and on and on and on and on. The moment we stop identifying with our victim stories. And, like anything else, it’s a process, and sometimes we’ll regress!” -Cortney

“’ve truly always felt like my soul is grown up- but I never will grow all the way up. I’m almost 30, and I’ll call my mom everyday just to hear her say she’s proud of me- or for some advice. I still spend money impulsively on unnecessary things. Sometimes I am just as goofy as my two year old daughter and have to process my feelings the same way she does. I don’t think there is such thing as being, “grown up” but you can definitely be more or less grown up than others. Fun question!” -McKenzie C

“The other day I noticed the roof on someone’s house needed replaced/repaired. That felt like a pretty adult observation.” -Amy L

“Being young is about life being more potential than commitment but as you get older the potential will go away whether you make any commitments or not. So you grow up a little every time you make a decision to sacrifice some possibilities you hoped for in order to invest in whatever commitments you chose.” -Lauren

“When you have to start paying bills!! Adulthood isn’t fun!!” -Mark N

“You’re as old as you feel. 🤔🙃 I’m like 10 yo, most of the time.” -Kristen C

“You will just know. I think 🤔” -Doreen M

“Never?” -Emma G

“My dad says when i have my own phone contract… Not happening.” -Rachael M

“Maybe I’m being evasive, but this question is smuggling a lot of baggage with it. What does grown up even mean? If it’s a matter of competence, that’s much more of a rise with an inevitable fall behind it. More of a curve than a milestone. The curvature can vary, and is often truncated early. If it’s about when you stop questioning every choice you make, I think it more a matter of embracing ignorance. If it’s a question about when you are able to handle “real” responsibility, then there are at least two more tough questions behind it. What qualifies as handling it? And: when is it “real”? Is this a passage that by definition is achieved by everyone, and therefore the bar should be set accordingly? We use legal age of adult for that, but I am not impressed with that as much of an achievement if all you have to do is hang out long enough. I’m sure wiser people than me have things good and pithy in the subject.” -Andrew B