Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Really Tough Question

Here’s a really tough question to answer: In the final analysis; when all is said and done; when you get down to brass tacks; and, (ugh), yes, I suppose, at the end of the day what is the difference between kids and adults?

To be flippant, and to use the final cliché, which, Lord knows, hasn’t quite been used to death already, the end of the day is usually much earlier for the kids.

But this is a serious question and I shouldn’t be so nonchalant about it. I guess my chalant answer would be something like a kid becomes an adult when Life has somehow managed to suck enough of itself out of her/him to turn wide-eyed wonder and honest delight in existence into jaded boredom and cold calculation.

But don’t go thinking this is one of my dark days. I’m actually in a good mood today. I just finished a long, long weekend and had a nice visit from some friends. The preceding was one of my more positive answers to this impossible question. But all of my explanations seem to require further explanation. Hmmm…

Maybe I should start small and just try to do a self-applied Freudian head shrink to determine what social interactions, world events, thoughts, TV shows and other stimuli have conspired to bring this particular question to the forefront of my inner, and now outer monologue at this time.

It’s not that it has been bugging me more than usual. No I have a collection of things that are ahead of this question on THAT list. Like when did “hand-eye” co-ordination become “eye-hand” co-ordination? When did the “#” sign change from “number” to “pound”? Isn’t the cursive L with two lines through it actually a pound sign? People who say “irregardless”, “kinda really”, “just simply”, “at the end of the day”, or my all time least favourite word: “whom”. My favourtie word of all time is “lozenge”. Just so you know. Why shrimp are ever ever EVER cooked with the damn tails still on. I’m gonna invent a glove that just covers the thumb and forefinger that you wear so you don’t burn your fingers while squeezing the decorative tails off shrimp at fancy shmancy restaurants. God I hate that. Actually, I reckon I’ll move that right up to the top of the list of things that are especially bugging me right now. People who don’t know the difference between “comprised of” and “comprising”. And the self-interview is starting to get on my nerves too. You know what I’m talking about: “Do I know the answer? Yes. Will I tell it to you? Yes. Can I figure out why this is such a popular thing? No.”

Then there’s the list of things that always annoy me. Why mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects exist. Pretentious people.

Wait a minute. Here, I believe, is where my question fits in. Let me hit you with two more questions: Have you ever seen a grown up who just never grows up? I think we all have. In fact that is a partially secret lifetime aspiration of mine. Question number two is have you ever seen a pretentious kid?

When we think carefully about these two questions I think we can rule out age as being any kind of determining factor on when kids become adults. To my way of thinking; in my book; if you ask me a grown up who has never grown up is just a person who hasn’t perfected the fine art of pretentiousness. Or perhaps just made a conscious choice, (bless him/her), not to practice it. And I feel; if you want my honest reckoning on the matter; to call a spade a spade acting like an “adult” is just another form of pretentiousness. We are, after all, “acting” like adults. Pretentious, pretending, acting… To expound; do ya one better; go whole hog maybe they are all one and the same. To whit; in effect; i.e. maybe the actual point when a person espouses pretentiousness as an acceptable practice IS the point when he/she becomes an adult.

Yet another question: have you ever known a pretentious person who wasn’t really, really, REALLY concerned about what others thought of him/her. To be more specific, …really concerned about others thinking that they are not a kid but an adult? I can’t think of one at the spur of the moment; off the top of my head; out of left field.

Of course there is the issue of responsibilities. How can a person stay a kid forever? They have responsibilities! Jobs, spouses, kids… I suppose this is true and I don’t for one minute think that a person should shirk their responsibilities. But being a kid isn’t all about being irresponsible. In fact I’ve seen some very responsible kids. Being an adult isn’t all about taking on extra responsibilities either. In fact if you look at the big three that I’ve already listed aren’t they just three really good ways to remove all doubt from the minds of nay saying parents and relatives, skeptical friends and even people we don’t know about how grown up we are?

When we get a job we even dress “professionally” which really means “like an adult”. Why can’t I wear shorts and a tee shirt while I teach. OH GOD why can’t I??? Especially in the summer. Well, ONLY in the summer I guess. I’d look pretty silly dressed like that in winter. But I reserve the right to do so if it tickles my fancy; floats my boat; cures what ails me; makes me happy.

I guess this brings up the stimuli that has caused me to write about this tonight. It is night here. Late at night actually. I got out of bed troubled by this question and thinking of my aforementioned houseguests, (one of them most particularly), and one of my students. You see both did something very similar and child-like but I was having a hard time forgiving the one, not the other. My friend’s five-year-old boy made a few messes at my house while he was visiting. He quickly apologized and I had no trouble forgiving him. Whereas; however; in contrast; conversely; on the other hand one of my students who is in her early twenties missed my midterm exam. She apologized profusely but I’m having a hard time forgiving her. You see I’m holding her to a higher standard because she is supposed to be an adult. Responsible for her actions.

I suppose she DID do the adult thing and lied to me about the reason for missing the exam. Then told me a few other lies while pleading with me to take a make-up test during my free time. And I admit I lied to her and invented plans that I had that made it impossible for me to test her during that time. We had a “professional”, “adult” conversation. This made me think more deeply about my job.

Let’s face it, we get jobs so we can afford, (or in most cases just so we can have a steady income which qualifies us for bank loans, credit cards, mortgages etc.), adult things like cars, jewelry, apartments, furniture, vacations, and with any luck, (bad or good), a spouse and kids.

Finally we’ve reached the acid test of adulthood. It’s really quite simple after all this rambling on and on. If a person has debt, they are an adult. If a person wears a triple mortgage like an albatross around her/his neck, they are no longer a kid. If they punch a time clock; run the rat race; suffer through the same old grind day in and day out they are all growed up. With only a few exceptions, debt = adulthood. We either have to be stinking rich or filthy poor, or vice versa, to have the luxury of remaining a child. Or old and retired by which time we’ve completely forgotten how to be a kid. Usually.

So then why don’t all rich people act like kids? Why don’t they enjoy life like children? It seems to me; I figure; In my humble opinion there is one more problem here: how does one get rich enough to revert back to childhood while still maintaining enough innocence and goodness to make it possible? As my good friend William Shakespeare might say, “Aye, there’s the rub.” For while accruing our fortunes we enter into all sorts of evil doings that strip away our childhood. Like forcing yourself to be nice to coworkers, bosses, clients, students, supervisors, work acquaintances you absolutely can’t stand. Being given a budget to throw a company Christmas party, using half and pocketing the rest. Telling your supervisor how gallactically brilliant you think she is. Phoning in sick so you can (insert activity here). Acting like you don’t really mind the bosses bad hairpiece or his sexual innuendo. Telling a client that yes this (insert product here) really IS the best. (insert personal example here).

Lying, cheating and stealing, or even worse, for our careers. These are the things that slowly erode our childhood. And how do we justify piling these little sins one on top of the other? Of course, we do it for our spouses and our kids!

So other than never having a spouse, kids or even a job, there’s really only one solution. And if you go to third world; developing; poverty stricken; disadvantaged; underprivileged countries you will see what I mean. You either have to get rich honestly, (and while you’re at it jam a camel into the eye of a needle if I may wax Biblical), or stay poor to be happy. I often marvel at the people I see when I travel through poor countries in Southeast Asia. They all seem so much happier than me and I’m the one on vacation! Here’s a guy selling cold pineapple on the beach in Indonesia at a subsistence, (if that), level smiling, skipping and singing while he works. His house, (hovel), was just destroyed by an earthquake and he had no insurance. He recently lost some friends and family to a huge tsunami. You can't wipe the smile off his face with plastic surgery.

I’m just lost in thought walking down the beach trying to enjoy my vacation. Of course I have some important statistics to text message to accounting so that I can get the appropriate forms to claim this trip as a tax deduction. I also have an e-meeting with a client I hope to meet immediately after my vacation. Plus I have to devise a way to convince that client to buy my service/product for more than it’s worth. And there’s the quarterly report due in a week that may force me to end this vacation prematurely depending on whether the boss realizes I promised to be back in a week but am staying in Bali for two. But I’m so much more mature; grown up; adult than that pineapple salesman. Goody for me!

In summation; to conclude; so the upshot of the whole matter is the difference between adults and kids is debt and the misery that comes with it. Even though we all know that it would be great to maintain the happiness of childhood we want all the toys and trappings that turn us into downtrodden, shitkicked adults and we want them all NOW!!! WAY before we can afford them. We thereby voluntarily take on the responsibilities of life that suck most of the goodness out of us thus turning us into adults. And the height of successful adulthood is when you've made and trained one or more people to do exactly the same thing.

I think I'll forgive that student and tell her to stay a kid for as long as she can.

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