Am I An Adult?

Kid: I can't wait to be an adult! Adults can do anything they want! Cartoon-child-me: But they have to pay taxes* *I was a glass-half-empty sort of child

***

One year when I was still in highschool I asked for a green ipod for my birthday. The green was important. It was an unwell pistachio colour, sort of warm and cool at the same time. But teenagers aren’t renowned for their emotional restraint and despite the vomit-undertone I couldn’t have fallen more head-over-heels in love with this colour if it fronted a boyband. I stared at it in advertisements and in shop windows. I dreamed of it. I repeatedly prompted my mum so to make sure she absolutely knew the green one was mine, the one I was meant to have.

On the day, there was a heart-flutteringly ipod-shaped present for me.

Unwrapping a present with green wrapping paper ... and ... it's a silver ipod

Before we go any further, I’m going to throw up a wall of disclaimers just in case this escapes the orbit of my regular audience and ends up in the gross, judgemental part of the internet where navigating the comment section requires bio-hazard gear, and even then it’s best to detox afterward with a full exorcism.

Disclaimer: I was psyched to get an ipod.

Cartoon me holding silver ipod looking psyched. Word 'psyched' with arrow pointing at cartoon me.

Disclaimer: Even though it wasn’t soul-mate green.

Cartoon-me holding silver ipod saying 'oh well'

Disclaimer: Although I asked for the ipod, I didn’t expect to get it. My family routinely request present suggestions from each other and giving someone a suggestion doesn’t obligate them to fulfill it. I also did not feel entitled to expensive presents at all. Plenty of times we were told a suggestion cost too much.

Did I miss any potential judgement-windows?

Oh, of course.

Disclaimer: Yes, I’m a millennial. As horrifying as it sounds, some people were born between 1981 and 1996 (or wherever the boundaries are), including me, and sure, we meet up virtually over the interwebs every full moon and use complicated tournaments of Mario-Kart-by-proxy to decide which industry we’ll be assassinating next, but that’s really not the point.

Cartoon-me: Also, I'm not a tentacled monster. Zoom out to reveal cartoon me has tentacles instead of legs.

And the point isn’t that I didn’t get the colour ipod I particularly wanted, either. The point is what I was told next.

Mum saying: I'm sorry the shop didn't have green. But you'll be an adult soon. So I got you an adult colour.

***

When I was in my early twenties I lived alone. I had moved to the city to attend university. Previously I had lived in a residential college and then with a friend, and afterwards I would move in with my partner. But between all that there was this quiet year where I inhabited a tiny apartment with an awkward diagonal wall all by myself.

I’m introverted, at home with my own company, a wee bit controlling about my personal space, and perfectly happy staying in most evenings. I liked it.

At least until the mouse.

mouse

I waited until I’d seen it a couple of times to confirm that, yes, it was really there, and no, it was not just a one off visit. I had acquired a housemate.

mouse waving hello

I called my mum, who was 665kms away and could not physically help me.

Me on phone: What do I do? Voice on phone: You're going to have to kill it. Mouse: *looking innocent and pure, pointing at itself as though saying 'me?'*

There as no one to deal with it for me. I didn’t want to live with the mouse, but I didn’t want to kill it either. I also didn’t own any mouse traps. So I rigged up my own solution.

Box propped up with a ruler tied to string. I'm hiding behing the fridge holding the other end of the string.

(With hindsight, there were warning signs I would end up turning my life into cartoons.)

You’ll be shocked to learn it didn’t work.Trap has been sprung. Mouse is sitting on top of box, free.

But I tinkered. I found if I spilled some rice the mouse would come out, even if I was quite close. And then I tinkered some more. Until finally…

Rice on floor. Mouse peeks at it. Mouse gets closer. Panel zooms out, this is happening in front of an open door. I lean out from behind the door holding a dustpan brush and sweep the mouse out the door. Final panel: me sitting in front of closed door looking relieved.

I was so proud of myself. I even managed to locate a sneaky mouse-hole and block that up. I was sure the mouse would not come back.

And I had not killed it.

I am reading a book. I hear a rustle. (close up, eyes behind glasses) I look to the side ... and see a disgruntled mouse giving me the finger.

I bought a trap, baited it with peanut butter and put it in the cupboard. My partner stayed with me so when it happened

night time, in bed. Partner is asleep. I am awake, looking scared. Something goes *snap*

I wouldn’t be alone.

***

Person: Now you're an adult you'll want to get a Proper Job TM, Buy a House TM, and Start a Family TM! Me: ... will I though?

***

‘Proper’ jobs are out for me, unfortunately, due to chronic illness. I’ve made my own job writing and drawing. (I don’t make enough to pay income tax). I’m proud of it and I like it, but not everyone sees it as a ‘proper’ one.

Including banks.

Even though my partner did have a ‘proper’ job, there were a few years where buying a house seemed utterly impossible. The world is no longer built for a couple on a single (‘proper’) income (at least, Australia isn’t. I can’t speak for everywhere). But, somehow, we pried our way into the exclusive club of Valid House Hunters.

House hunting was a long, weird series of meetings with hyper-adulty sorts—mortgage brokers, real estate agents, conveyances. We put on sensible-masks, threw around words like “interest”, “settlement date”, “pre-approval” and waited for the inevitable moment they twigged to our game and threw us out.

Me, dressed in a button up shirt and holding a breifcase: How do you do fellow adults? (partner standing with me giving a thumbs up and wearing a shirt that says "smashed avo sucks"). An adult looks at me, confused.

No one was more surprised than us when we pulled it off.

Real estate agent, handing me keys: Congratulations! Me: Indubitably! Partner: Variable interest amiright? Final panel: close up of our grins

And home-ownership was fun.

Me and Partner: "We can paint the walls!" "Plants" "hang pictures" "we can get a cat!" Some random adult: ACUTALLY! Final panel: adult is speaking, speech bubble is so big it is crushing us "Owning a home is just a long list of things to spend money on and chores to do! It's a financial blackhole that will weigh you down for the rest of your lives! It's not *fun*!"

But it really was.

And then we had three miscarriages.

Dark room. Getting an ultrasound. Everyone looks concerned. I say "Okay ... okay..."

(I looked again to confirm it that, yes, it was really there, and no, it wasn’t just a one-off)

Dark ultrasound room again. I say: "Okay ... what do I do?"

Each time we made the appointments. Paid for scans. Let people know. I went to the hospital (my partner stayed with me so I wouldn’t be alone when it happened). We made more appointments. We tried to make time to grieve, to process. We booked ourselves into therapy. We reassured other people when we didn’t feel at all assured ourselves.

It’s been almost a year since the third miscarriage, almost two years since the first, and most mornings when I wake up my first thought is still

Dark room, me in bed. "What do I do?". Second panel: still in bed, still lying there. Third panel: I get up.

Some days the big, ultimate answer, the only thing capable of getting me out of bed, is the dishwasher. Or the laundry or the vacuuming, or whatever chore it’s my turn at.

Because I get that little high of accomplishment from getting them done. Because I don’t feel like I have control over anything else in my life anymore. Because I still don’t know how to be someone who had three miscarriages. I don’t know who that is. I can’t get out of bed for her.

But I can be someone who empties the dishwasher.

Me emptying the dishwasher

And once you’ve emptied the dishwasher everything seems a little more possible.

But not fun.

Fun is hard. Fun is elusive.

Fun is a chore.

Really. It’s a job you have to do to stay healthy, like flossing. It just doesn’t feel like flossing when it comes naturally. Right now, for me, it doesn’t. If I want to catch it, I have to set traps.

We set traps. We bought some new video games. We build each other blanket forts. We taught our cat to hi-five. I take refuge in adventure-steampunk, comedic SSF, and comic books.* We go for walks and adventures and find new places.

It’s exhausting.

***

I am playing video games. Random adult: Adults don't play video games! You'll have to stop when you have a kid. Final panel: me giving him a very unimpressed look.

***

Am I an adult?

Over the course of my life I have been told so many things about what being an adult is all about. I’m nearly 30, and according those adulthood criteria, I’m not sure I qualify.

I’m (considerably) over 21, so I definitely meet the age requirement. I also (part) own a house, which I believe some people would count in my favour.

But I do not have a ‘proper’ job. I do not earn enough to pay income tax. I do not have children, which some people seem to think is necessary (I might still have them one day, but I might not). I still play video games and read comic books. I am the proud owner of a stegosaurus-shaped handbag.

Am I an adult?

If I was to tell someone what adulthood was, to impose my own definition, I might choose to say that it’s just doing the next thing. I think the accurately vague nature of that is perfect for adulthood, and bonus, if it’s a thing you do, then it’s a verb, and therefore ‘adulting’ becomes valid terminology.

When I first started writing this, that’s what I thought I was going to say. But as I wrote and drew, I looked and thought again, and that’s not how this ends anymore.

Am I an adult?

Don’t answer.

It’s not the real question. The real question is, do I have to be?

The essence of adulthood, from what I’ve been told, is that you’re not supposed to enjoy it. If you do, people will line up around the corner to say you must be doing it wrong or you’re naive and deluded, and anyway just you wait for the next milestone, that one will really wreck you.

The criteria are ridged, pointless, and in some cases unhealthy and irresponsible. It’s all about ticking boxes and how things look on the surface. It’s not about how you’re doing or what’s going on underneath.

And if everyone says it’s that, who I am to disagree?

So take it all away. It’s been messed up too much for too long. I don’t want it. I don’t even want to fix it, though you can try if you want.

I’ll just be over here, doing the next thing, drawing dinosaurs, and choosing puke-green everything. Crowned queen of the dishwasher and nothing else. Trying endlessly, desperately, to have fun.

After all, adults can do anything they want.

***

Years ago ... Silver ipod screen says nope, it is broken. I go to a shop. There are brightly coloured ipods in the window. I smile, the panel has turned orange.

* Sidebar: for fun giggles from those respective categories I recommend Soulless by Gail Carriger, Redshirts by John Scalzi, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (beginning with Vol 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson).

*********************************

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34 thoughts on “Am I An Adult?

  1. This was an incredible read. My heart breaks for what you’ve endured. Your twenty-something voice speaks with the wisdom and soul of someone who has seen the whole world. I’m in tears here, so much resonates, but there’s tears of laughter too ;) I’m a complete fraud as an adult. I’m in my 5th decade and the dishwasher I’ve owned for 2 years makes me feel like I’m playing house. (I’ve never wanted anything as much as I’ve wanted a dishwasher. Not a day goes by when I don’t say out loud how much I love it). I think ‘doing the next thing’ is a pretty good plan and totally the right approach. When I first left home and stepped into the big grown-up world, my Auntie offered me this little pearl; ‘No-one can tell you that you can’t sit in bed and eat curry’. So whenever I think ‘I’m an adult so should I be doing this/buying this/watching this?’, I remember her words :).

    1. Your Auntie sounds very wise. I also love my dishwasher. I’d never had one until quite recently, and I’m convinced it’s the best invention ever. Thank you so much for this comment!

    1. Just between us, he only does it if you are offering him a treat. He has no awareness that a raised hand WITHOUT a treat hiding in the other hand should be hi-fived. So it’s only a semi-success.

  2. You are a wonderful writer as well as artist. Your essay gave me a lot to think about. I am 60 years old and I’ve been an adult my whole life (I can’t give a definition, it was just, you know it when you see it kind of thing). That’s just what it was. Sometimes I didn’t like it but mostly I did. Life taught me that being independent (however defined) is important to me. Having said that, I’m now pretty much retired and I intend to spend this phase of my life letting go. Simplifying my responsibilities. I realize I think of this as my childhood time. I’m living backwards. Which makes me say to you, things don’t always come in an order that fits the usual pattern, that is my thought for you. You are very much a person making a difference right now.

    Also, love that story about the mouse!

  3. Gee, as a sixty-nine year old kid, do I have to grow-up? Your writing is such an adult thought provoking thing, while at the same time is thoroughly entertaining. May you always possess the inner child that is you.

  4. This made me laugh, and it made me cry. My heart aches for all that you’ve been through and, yet, I feel so proud of the bravery you’ve found and the humor you’ve fostered in the face of it all. When it comes down to it, we’re merely humans–gaggles, swarms and caravans of sentient flesh wandering aimlessly, wondering what’s for dinner and what is *really* means to grow up. I don’t think anyone truly knows what they’re doing, though some are damn skilled at faking it. Some people walk into the “Adulting, The Costume Store” and choose to be an impressive professional while others choose the inflatable dinosaur costume. I personal think being a successful human, regardless of age or any other factor, comes down to embracing one’s skills, accepting one’s shortcomings and absolutely owning the pike-green ipod, high-fiving cat, dinosaur purse and empty dishwasher because those are the wonderful things that set you apart from all the other humans. I’m no expert on adulting, but you’re doing a damn swell job humaning!! <3

    1. Thank you for this excellent comment. (There are so many good, involved ones from this story, which is really nice!)

      Also, I *love* “humans-gaggles, swarms and caravans of sentient flesh wandering aimlessly, wondering what’s for dinner”.

  5. Tremendous! I have to say that that was unparalleled, Lucy! Needless to say, I am forwarding to my millennial daughter, who loved glass half full/empty, broken philosophy.

    <>

    <>

    #$%! me that’s good. Had me reeling! And what I come here for! I enjoy your wavelength of humour! Just as I do a certain Cornwallian whose nom de plume is Bryntin.

    You have a well of courage there and I salute you for it. I can’t even imagine the grief you have had to navigate and still do, in all likelihood.

    I don’t have a chronic illness but I am on disability due to an ABI I had a few years back, however, I can work PT, to a certain extent. It has cleared the way to my passion. Though I’ve trained half my brain to do the work of the injured half, fatigue is never not an issue.

    You worked hard on this, and it definitely demands another read! Which I will do. Now.

  6. these were the quotes I was referring to in my comment!

    “where navigating the comment section requires bio-hazard gear, and even then it’s best to detox afterward with a full exorcism.”

    “we meet up virtually over the interwebs every full moon and use complicated tournaments of Mario-Kart-by-proxy to decide which industry we’ll be assassinating next”

  7. I once aspired to adulthood, but now I have no idea what it is. You are so right–you do what you must, and what you enjoy when you can, and the rest is a surprise that you deal with. Good and bad all mixed together. There’s no one-size fits all.
    My mother always told me when I grew up I would cut my hair (we were always fighting about my hair). She was wrong about that, but at least she knew enough not to tell me adults could do what they wanted…(K)

  8. most of my life I wondered what/why/how i’d be iffenWhen I grooo-up, and I suspeculate it’s a bit toooo late, now. I DOO (really, eye dew) think yoo’d getta chukkul out-a my (most recent? or next-to-last (or izzit phurst?)) post about a so-called(ron) mile- (or mill?) stoan ~

  9. This whole post – the writing, the drawings – I just couldn’t love it more. Your stuff is always so great, but this one I think is my favorite. :)

  10. You have such an amazing talent for storytelling, and really reaching into my heart. All with this engaging drawings, their simplicity not at all reflective of how deep and insightful your words are…. keep doing this…

  11. Absolutely loved how the artwork made me laugh all through the undertones of a serious post. You’re a master at it. The iPod thing makes me think about the time I asked my parents for a Mr. Potato Head. They gave me a real potato with toothpicks and tacks stuck in it and told me it was just as good.

    I’m 51 years old, married for the third time, have four grown kids, and still wonder if I’m an adult. It used to worry me that I “wasn’t acting my age” sometimes, but these days I’ve decided I don’t care. Just be.

  12. I’m probably old enough to be your grandmother (‘boomer’ generation that some younger folks love to hate, but they’ve gotta say it to my face, and then pay the consequences…) and I have to tell you that there’s absolutely and completely no such thing as ‘being an adult’. It’s just about learning to accept yourself and really, that takes time. It took me more years than I care to think about. I’ve had health problems all my life, so I understand about what comes with that. I laughed like a drain (someone else’s) and then wondered if you’d spotted that your mouse-visitor was green… and then I got to your miscarriages and felt and still feel such sadness for you. I haven’t lost any kids, haven’t had any kids – I decided a long time ago that I was such a baby myself I wouldn’t be a good mum, so that’s where I’m at with that, but my mother had a miscarriage (some years before I arrived) and I know it caused her no end of emotional problems. So…. well, time will pass and things will happen and gradually you’ll come into your own being and be able to accept yourself (with or without chores to do).

    1. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine despite the generation difference … just so long as no one mentions avocados.

      [camera closes in on Lucy’s face as she stares into the stares into the distance. The muffled sound of avocados smashing can be heard]

      Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate it. Adults definitely aren’t a real thing. I’m sorry about your mother’s miscarriage.

  13. Adulting is overrated! Love your insights, your drawings – far better illustrations of your stories than any photo could possibly be – and your humor. Sorry I’m arriving late to the scene but will be eagerly following now!

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