As a child, the world of the grown up seems a strange and foreign realm filled with boredom, meetings and sedentary distractions. You know that at one time your parents were children and on the same vague level you are aware that you will one day be an adult, but the path between the two is all but incomprehensible. The motivations of our parents were incompatible with our own. After all, nobody was making them go to bed or eat their vegetables, and yet still they did.
For hints on the mysterious metamorphosis that maturity promised, we turned to our movies, our comics and our cartoons. We combined what we knew of ourselves, what we knew of our parents and what our pop culture references had to offer and constructed a vision of the grown-up world.
Regardless of what generation you grew up in, your television programs assured you that grown-ups weren’t as smart as their kids. Whether it was Lassie, Inspector Gadget or the Fairly Odd-Parents, you knew that intelligence was a bottom up totem pole with the parents representing the dumbest end of the scale and the pets the smartest. This made sense because at the time it seemed easier to relate to the dog than to a person who owned a car and never even tried to set up a jump ramp for it.
|He also never blew it up, which I found odd.|
Luckily, we have a long time to allow our expectations of adulthood to come into focus. Throughout adolescence we suffer the disappointments one at a time and they dampen our hopes little by little. But often I wonder what my six-year old mind would think of the world it wound up in.
#1) I thought I’d have enemies
At six I was still pretty enamored with the whole good guy/bad guy dichotomy. I assumed that there would come a time when each of us would select an alignment, much like in Dungeons and Dragons. I, of course, would select a good and noble alignment, but I knew plenty of kids that seemed poised for chaotic-evil.
As a child I had enemies. They were often friends that had turned to the dark side but just as often they were bullies that seemed to be the collective enemies of everyone on the playground. Combining this knowledge with the world my TV shows and comic books presented, I naturally assumed that there would come a time in my life when one of a half-dozen animal-themed antagonists would be responsible for most of the ills of my life. I would notice that my tire was flat and upon further examination I would see a brown feather, revealing it to be the work of my arch-nemesis “The Night-Owl”.
|I guess I just didn't expect my enemies to look like this.|
#2) I thought I’d like Brussels sprouts
The idea of having a credit card and free access to the candy aisle seemed overwhelming to me as a child. If I accepted that my parents and I were indeed the same species, I would have questioned their ability to pass by bag after bag of colored sugar and not fill the shopping cart to capacity. But they were not the same species. I assumed they had different taste buds that abhorred candy and loved string beans, liver and steamed broccoli.
In turn, it seemed reasonable to assume that someday I would undergo this were-vegan transformation and start thinking all of that nasty crap tasted good. It never occurred to me that my parents wanted to fill the cart with chocolate and simply forced themselves not to. The idea of self-control is unfathomable to an organism that still considers sitting down and screaming as a viable option for getting its way.
|A semi-edible utensil for the |
transportation of dip. Nothing more.
#3) I thought there would be fights
The one thing all my available mediums agreed on was that adults punched each other. This was often but not always exclusive to the men, but even in the dramatic movies I was suckered into watching, guys punched each other here and there. The alternatives to punching were, of course, swordfights, gunfights or wizardry so hand to hand combat seemed like the lowest rung on the ladder of conflict.
|"Taking 13 items into the express lane, eh?"|
It never occurred to me that I didn’t actually see grown-ups getting into fights. I suppose I could have written it off as something they simply did after the collective “bed time” since most of the fighting in the movies happened at night. The point is, when I picked up a stick as a child and swung it about like a wooden rapier, I wasn’t playing, I was training.
It seemed like a logical progression from the conflict resolution strategies I employed as a child. Step one was to determine whether either party could win the argument by sitting on the other. If the size and/or weight ratios were similar enough to prohibit that, a barrage of increasingly gasp-inducing insults would follow. The idea of punching, smacking and hitting not only fit with what I knew about resolving conflict, it also fit with what I knew about grown ups.
#4) I thought there would be car chases
It infuriated me that my father did not know how fast his car could go. He never spent a penny modifying it with a turbo boost, an oil slick ejector, tire-shredding extendable knives or a witty on-board computer. He never painted flames down the side of his mid-sized sedan and he never even made an effort to find an unfinished bridge with a jumpable gap.
|He also never drove into the back of a semi at full speed. No wonder I'm in therapy.|
I figured I must have just been at school during most of his high-speed car chases. In the movies very few issues could arise without eventually setting off some sort of vehicular pursuit. I expected a car chase complete with exploding apple cart and stampeding pedestrians leaping from the sidewalks at least once or twice a month. The more exotic chases where I would be on a snow mobile, a hovercraft or a rocket-powered penny-farthing would be more of annual occurrences.
As a child, whenever we drove to grandma’s house along the interstate, I always assumed there were car chases going on all around us. If a seventeen year old dare devil shot passed us at eighty-five I would assume that there were cop cars hedging him in from some unseen short cut. If a semi approached fast enough to earn my father’s condemnation I naturally expected it was carrying a death ray and somewhere in the sky someone with his underwear on the outside of his pants was gauging the proper course to intercept.
#5) I thought I’d know I was a grown-up
Children have no real sense of gradual change. The difference between six-years old and seven isn’t a single day or even a single year. It is a rite of passage of epic importance. It is a privilege and honor you’ve sought and dreamed of as long as you can remember. You can tell an eight year old from a nine year old at a glance. On the other end of the scale, everybody between nineteen and fifty-three is essentially the same age.
The idea that there would be overlap between childhood and adulthood never occurred to me as a child. I didn’t realize that my parents didn’t eat junk food exclusively because at one point in their lives they tried that and it sucked. I didn’t realize that they didn’t get into car chases because they’d dented a fender before and paid through the nose to fix it. They didn’t get into fistfights because they learned that getting into a fistfight is really painful.
I assumed that there would be a clear demarcation. I figured that at eighteen there would be a seminar that we would all attend. You would get a license that allowed you to stop kids if you heard them cursing, they would teach you how to make a person’s middle name seem intimidating as hell and they would teach you the precise volume level at which one can no longer hear one’s self think.
|"If everyone could quiet down, we're going to practice|
belittling all music written from this point forward."
#6) I thought I’d choose an occupation
A child could be forgiven for thinking that the most important question they face as they develop is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” They will encounter this inquiry at every turn; from every teacher, every relative and every adult that’s already asked what grade they’re in and still feels obligated to talk to them.
There were precious few potential occupations back then. In order to be considered an occupation it had to be expressible in a single word unless the second word was “man”. There had to be a fairly universal uniform for it and ideally it should have a particular vehicle associated with it as well. Things like ninja and puppet were acceptable answers, but “regional vice president of human resources for an IT firm” was not.
|Add astronaut, basketball player and werewolf and |
you've pretty much got everything right there.
My assumption was that jobs would be doled out much in the way that cafeteria food was dispensed. We would all be at the “grown-up” seminar and a bell would ring. You would have to get in line as quickly as possible but you wouldn’t run because grown ups don’t run unless they’re in special running clothes. You would proceed to a room where all the jobs would be laid out and people would walk up and say “Policeman” or “Astronaut” or “Pilot” and get a badge, a space helmet or keys to a F-15. If you were toward the back of the line you might get stuck with something less cool like “clerk” or “dentist” (which were equally undesirable if I recall correctly). It would be tantamount to being too late for chocolate milk and getting white instead. Some people got the skim milk of jobs like garbage collector or senator but by and large everyone would be what they said they would be when they were kids.
It’s interesting to reflect on the world that would create. There would be no fear of fire or crime and a standing army of millions. The nation would be governed by tiny municipal kingdoms each with it’s own princess whose sovereignty would be trumped only by the constant cycle of presidents, each serving a microscopic term to accommodate every smarmy kid who actually enjoyed piano lessons. There would be six hundred veterinarians for every doctor and rock stars would play on every street corner, protected by a swarm of fighter pilots forever circling the castles on every hillside.
Yeah, I’d say it’s fair to be disappointed with what we got.