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Growing Up

by on March 14, 2019

Growing Up

by Marco M. Pardi

The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”

Max Lerner. The Unfinished Country. 1950

All comments welcome and will receive a response.

My companion dog, Plato, was taking me for our morning walk today when we encountered a neighbor and her companion dog, Boudreaux. Boudreaux is actually female, and has long loved Plato. Plato and I are on good terms with the whole family.

As we walked we talked about where, other than Georgia, we would like to be. Suddenly my neighbor asked, Where did you grow up? I was a bit taken aback. People more often ask, Where are you from? Actually, I was equally surprised at my own reaction: I didn’t quite know how to respond. I wanted to ask, What do you mean by growing up? But I trotted out a list of places in chronological order, assuming that at some undetermined place I had grown up.

The question seems to presume we are all in agreement on what constitutes growing up. Does it literally mean reaching your adult height? I’ve known a range of people, from military dependents who moved every couple of years to people who willingly lived their entire lives in the small towns where they were born. Yet nothing in that knowledge of those people tells me about their growing up. Was it when they first had sexual intercourse? If so, what does that say about the child who was preyed upon by an adult? Was it when they first realized religion is a man made construct for money and power, with little or nothing to do with whether there is a god? Was it when they first held a job which enabled them to be “self sufficient”? Was it when they first took a human life? Are we talking about places or events? If it’s events, why do places matter?

Nearing the eve of my first marriage I mentioned to some associates (I was a Research Associate at the time), older professors of Clinical Psychology, that I was getting married. One woman look down her formidable nose at me and said, “Well, that ought to mature you.” What? Four years in active military, several non-military clandestine ops, and being in my mid-twenties and I was not “mature”? Strange, I thought decisions such as marriage were made by mature people, not by people still growing up. Then again, maybe that showed I really wasn’t grown up.

So how do we reckon being grown up? Can we declare it ourselves, or do we need to get the Imprimatur from a Clinical Psychologist? I have never been impressed by milestones, especially those erected by other people. I’ve known children who were “wise beyond their years” and adults, like our current President, who were or still are the tallest brat in the daycare.

Some traditional cultures still mark the development of sexual maturity as the advent of adulthood, growing up. But there’s a very good reason for that. Pregnancy can bring huge consequences for the group as a whole.

Having worked several years in the clinical epidemiology of sexually transmitted diseases, I can opine that the onset of sexual activity does not necessarily herald what I interpret as “grown up” behavior.

Most cultures have some form of Rite of Passage marking transition into adulthood, though they may not be labeled as such; driver’s license, drinking age, voting rights, draft eligibility, etc. are some examples. But these are external markers. We assume a person who reaches them in fact qualifies for them. How do you feel about the chronological right to purchase a firearm, even obtain a concealed carry license?

Yes, I know that in some cases, such as driver’s license. there are tests that must be passed. But seriously, do you think these filter out the kids who will go out and street race that day? A background check for a firearm purchase illuminates (hopefully) past infractions and/or mental health issues. But are you willing to bet your life that no new circumstances will spark an inappropriate reaction?

In too many cases we act as an after-the-fact culture; a person who, have reached a marker, has been granted permission for a certain behavior such as driving or owning a firearm does something which harms or kills another person and we wring our hands and say, Oh, I guess you were not grown up after all. But our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.

And speaking of victims, we often read of childhood sexual abuse victims or child refugees as “having their childhood stolen from them.” While no one should deny that their life experiences have been horrible, does that mean they have bypassed childhood and become adults? Are they grown up? Or are they a different kind of child? People who actually work with these children affirm to us it is the latter; these children are still children albeit with additional challenges on their road to growing up.

I used to flippantly say the next stage after maturity is decay. But maybe maturity is a temporary plateau from which we can launch very substantial changes, intentionally or not. How often have we heard of a couple having “grown apart”? I’m sure some partners would see the changes in their partners as decay, but maybe it’s a continuous process of growing up. And if that’s the case for both the partners it can’t be surprising that so many grow apart.

I was 27 when I began teaching college. A few years into it I was also offered and accepted a one year appointment to teach at an ultra conservative private college nearby. My classes were Marriage & the Family. A couple of months into the first semester at that college my wife filed for divorce and left for an unknown location with our small daughter. I did not use this event as a teaching model, or even mention it. But I suspect the more perceptive students noted a change in my demeanor even if I did not intend it.

But this event got me wondering: Do we judge maturity by a person’s experiences and knowledge, or do we judge maturity by the way a person processes experiences and knowledge? The former is an objective, if not very helpful measure. But the latter is fraught with subjectivity. It raises the question: Who are you to judge me?

I’m always puzzled by people I’ve not seen in a long time saying, “You haven’t changed a bit”. Is this a compliment or an insult? I say that because I see that temporary plateau I mentioned earlier as just that: temporary. Life is a growth process not a series of static stages. In my youth I found the Peter Pan story somewhat interesting, particularly since I had a hormonal response to Tinkerbelle. But the story seemed frightening in the same way as those stories about spending “eternity praising God and sitting on clouds”. Eternally static. What a true nightmare. The same holds true for those stories about the Genie and the magic lamp. As the saying goes, Be careful what you wish for. The unspoken follow-up to that is that you could be stuck with that wished for object or state or person forever. As a child I decided I would tell the Genie my wish would be to have the continuing power to obtain what I wish for. It was only later I realized I had better ask for wisdom, too.

I’m interested when I hear an adult ask a child, What do you want to be when you grow up? Just once I’d like to hear the child say, I may grow up but I will BE nothing in particular. I will handle life as it comes.

When I say I’m not done growing up it doesn’t mean I have to behave like a child. It means I’m continually discovering my ability to see and understand the world around me. But that doesn’t mean people will agree with my understanding. It only means it works for me, and that’s just fine.

How about you, Dear Reader?

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16 Comments
  1. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Very thoughtful, as always. I’ll turn 66 in a couple of months, but most of the time I still have doubts that–in most respects, at least–I’ve “grown up,” or ever will. And yet…and yet…I do sometimes find myself seeing things more clearly, and with more detachment, than some of those significantly younger than I. As for what I want to BE when I grow up…I still haven’t figured that out yet.

    • Thank you, Michael. I think that introspection you describe is one of the most valuable growing experiences we can have. You seem active in doing, not merely being.

  2. From Ray: I totally agree – maturity is a state of mind. I hope I’ll never grow up if growing up means losing the love of just letting yourself go. Great topic Marco – and nice conclusion. Thanks for making my day.

  3. Thank you, Ray. I hope to keep on processing information and experience and your column, though I’m still not often able to comment, is always a beneficial experience for me.

  4. “Growing old (assuming we live that long) is mandatory; growing up is not.” There is a significant difference between childlike and childish; Even as my body grows older, I hope to always maintain a bit of childhood curiosity and wonder. (I also have a thing for Tinkerbell -not hormonal- because she petulantly stomps her foot and insists that life go her way. I believe in faeries, and she’s my favorite.) more later, Rose

  5. Thanks you, Rose. I like that quote. Yes, the Wonder Years. May they live on and on.

  6. Julie permalink

    This is a great piece of writing Marco – love the way you have thought through different concepts around “growing up”. I too have pondered in a very similar way. Makes me see, experience snd feel that humans have come into this world at different “stages” often despite the best and worst parenting. Some young people have maturity and insight beyond their years while other young people the opposite and this is often apart from intelligence in my experience. I like the opening quote “The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.” this really resonates with me.

    • Thank you, Julie. Long ago I developed a four part paradigm: Some are born asleep and stay asleep; some are born asleep and awaken; some are born awake and are put to sleep (by society, religion, “education”, etc); and some are born awake and stay awake. It would be interesting to devise a scale of personal suffering applied to each.

  7. More: Most of the time I believe that I was born, not just grown up, but well on my way to old age. I was serious as a child, and I have continued to be serious throughout my life. Becoming a grandmother taught me the skill of play, and it wasn’t until I was half a century old that I learned how to enjoy myself. Despite this, I have always had a sense of adventure that has often been stymied by the circumstances of my existence. The older I get, the more fun my life becomes, and the more chances I am willing to take to make it so. In an odd sort of way, my maturity is regressing. I wonder, where does that place me on your paradigm? Life is good. Rose

    • Thank you, Rose. I think you are a prime example of born awake and stayed awake, and a clear demonstration for us that life is a continuous process of growth.

      Having said that, I sometimes wonder what it’s all for. Yes, people like us continue growing and expanding our understanding. Then, one day, we die. Do we carry our growth with us, and if so, to what use to we put it?

      I have a sense of learning to play later in life. Having no contact with children my age until I was turning six, and then only in a strictly regimented military school, I found much later I was ill prepared to be a play partner for my infant/toddler daughter – something I’ve regretted to this day.

      • The “experts” tell us we are not supposed to be friends with out children when they are young; we are supposed to be parents. I feel as though I was a primarily a caretaker in the growing up years (thanks to a bout of major depression on my part, my daughter and I never really bonded during her childhood), and even today I am unsure they would call me friend. I guess I’ll settle for being “da bomb” when they need me.

        Reincarnation, afterlife, or not, the things we learn in this life are most useful in making our own lives, as well as the lives of others, better. The Dalai Lama is probably the wisest man either one of us will ever encounter, and he definitely knows how to enjoy his own life while enriching the lives of all those with whom he has any form of contact. His inner child plays daily, and we should also take our fun where we can find it.

      • Thanks, Rose. I also heard those “experts”. I’m sure that’s accurate to some degree, but I still feel I should have spent more time in play. In the past few years our conversations have been mostly about medical science, which she enjoys and is exceedingly good at.

        Yes, I greatly admire the Dalai Lama. He has certainly enhanced my life.

  8. I don’t see age well. I agree I hope I don’t regress or stagnate, but there is definitely a difference in my critical thinking now compared to pre age 24 – regardless of all the “grown up” stuff I did. Sometimes I think it is luck, a miracle, or both. I have also since bucked the idea of these social milestones and am living very happily after shedding some of that “adult” responsibility – who needs it? You only live once. Funny that growing up is associated with serious demeanor and responsibility; the grown-ups that seem to have the best time are those who don’t act that way.

  9. Thank you, E. I heartily agree on who is having the best time in life.

  10. jkent33 permalink

    Thanks for another installment in your life and a great story to boot too! Since childhood, I feared what to say when that question is posed to me. Many knew my circumstances with my mother whose reputation was often mercurial and swift when things failed to go her way. Many times all I wanted to be was far away from her in general. It was apparent to my first-grade teacher whose loving and kind nature tempered my home life by showering me with attention. Somehow, I wound up in school at just 4 years old. That’s one way to get a kid out of your hair when you are not quite a 20-year-old mother. Weighing in at 35 pounds from bad tonsils and adenoids my frail frame made me the target for abuse which only added to my desire to grow up quickly. My moxie and gift of brains beyond my age aided my survival rate. Always in search of a hero to worship when I grew up did not land on the usual characters like Superman or Hopalong Cassidy. I wanted something real and great to latch onto. It was easy to want to be a soldier donning a crisp uniform that was everywhere in those days. My greatest attention was captured by a character in the funnies named Steve Canyon. He wore a variety of uniforms represented by a small picture bordering the columns. He traveled the globe involving himself in many, many characters I found intriguing from the start. Not to mention, my hormones also found he had females in every port he hooked up with during each encounter with danger. That could account for my personal life filled with ladies of a wide range of interest. Back to the subject, I fell in love with a young lady of 16 who mirrored Elizabeth Taylor. We eloped to VA where both of us grew up overnight. She had to finish as valedictorian of her senior class and I had to go to a welding school with aspirations to build the Alaskan pipeline. That idea didn’t float well because when the recruiter learned I was just 17 and despite being top of my class; he practically tossed me out saying, he couldn’t allow himself to send me to my grave. Screaming a “piss and vinegar-filled” teenager as I, would be killed in a week. So as grown up as I felt he thought I was crazy! My search sent me to college taking me first to be an insurance salesman for Prudential. When after two years I sold the largest policy ever written to one person winning me accolades and a trip to the home office in Jacksonville, FL not to mention commissions lasting a whole year plus in one swoop. While sitting in his private quarters on the top floor I was sure I had grown up. Not true. I was shunned by the veterans back home so I kept switching hats like Steve Canyon my hero along with an equal number of ladies as well, only to discover again I was not grown up. I went to motorcar racing school finishing highest in my class fully expecting I had finally grown up…no cigar there either! So at 72 living alone in my fairly new home each morning I think today just may be the day…as I finish up: I sure do hope I never grow up!! Oh, wait I believe Peter Pan is at my door…

    • Thanks, Jerry. No doubt Steve Canyon would be avidly reading your life story. My interests drew me more to the alienated: Tarzan, the Phantom, the Shadow, etc. But somehow, while reading your comments, I remembered a 1960’s television series about a guy on a Harley who cruised around the country from one adventure to the next. Later, I did take great interest in David Carradine’s series, Kung Fu. Solitary, philosophical, “other”, and measured in the application of force. Funny how these conversations can resurrect memories like that.

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