Growing Up Without Growing Old

Growing up we would often have large family gatherings at my grandparent’s house: a large, two-story home in a small mid-western town filled with cousins, aunts, uncles, and the smells of potatoes, green-beans, casseroles, and pork chops or meatloaf or steak wafting from the kitchen. When it came time to sit down for the meal, a strict division was observed. In the main dining room area (which was not really a separate room, but an extension of the kitchen), with the heavy, crafted dining room table, fancy plate-ware, utensils, and glasses sat the “adults.” In the rear utility room with card tables and chairs, paper plates, and plastic cups sat the “kids.” We, as “kids,” were relegated away from the adult world. As an adult, I understand this practical impulse, children are messy and loud and cannot carry the conversation that an adult can. But as a child, one of the things I wanted most was to sit at the “adult” table, to sit on the big wooden chairs, to hear the “grown-up” conversation, and use the fancy dishware.

I am sure this kind of desire is not unique to my childhood. When children are quite young, parents will often appeal to them “growing up” or “being a big boy or girl” in order to get them to do something. “Be a big boy Trent, and eat your vegetables!” Yet, why do parents do this, and why does it often work? It works because there is a natural desire within the child to become an adult. A “child” is not what we are meant to be. It is a stage in the developmental processes of becoming a fully formed human. Children want to grow up. Boys want to become men, and girls want to become women.

Yet, we often find that when children do, in fact, “grow-up” they are dissatisfied with the adult life. There are bills to pay, obligations to career and family, burdens and responsibilities that they never imagined. So then, we long for a return to childhood. We reminisce about the by-gone, carefree days of our youth. We even tell children to cherish childhood because they will miss it. “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May.” So which is it: do we want to grow up or do we want to remain children? It is almost as if there are two separate worlds that exist between childhood and adulthood, and no matter which we’re in, we wish we were in the other.

The child must grow into the adult, able to reason and bear responsibility, but must not leave behind the wonder, energy, and whimsy of the child. The adult must maintain the spirit for life that is often lost under the weight of adulthood. How exactly this might be accomplished is left for another time. Yet the goal seems to be the ability to grow up without growing old.