An Emeritus Position on the Board of Life

Well hello there. How are you? My name is Richard, and I am a 36 year old man. I live in a Victorian house with a woman whom I have known for many years, with whom I share a number of financial interests. Mostly a house and a car, and the responsibilities they both carry with them. Together we have a small child, and two small dogs. I have a job which I enjoy, and the professional qualifications needed in order to carry out my role. I can rewire a plug, and I can cook dinner for ten. Is that OK?

To my mind that all makes me a grown up: I have the experience, aptitudes and skills required to live in this world of ours at a high level of function. That’s not to say I do not have a support network, but the flow of support is more often than not shared, mutual: I help other people; people also help me.

I’m proud to be a grown up; it feels hard earned, a process I have gone through, and only then found myself at a point of reflection within. I have more to learn, further to develop, but I am very much an adult now, and in ways that I now realise that I had never really been aware of before. It is that awareness – or lack of it – which shocks me the most, and casts my view of my past in to stark relief.

OK, so let’s dig in to what I’m talking about here. Something I dwell upon is how different I am now from how I was. Example: University flat share. I lived with a couple: it’s always a bad start. I had gone from being a schoolboy – someone for whom domestic chores were something I was far from aware of – to someone sharing a domestic space. This isn’t a joke; I genuinely wasn’t conscious of it.

At least two of the people I lived with were aware that dishes had to be done, that hoovering was a necessary task. For me, I hadn’t made that intellectual leap. Only years later did I have a lightbulb come on above my head and realise why they were always quite so angry with me. I used to stare in bewilderment at the question “Are you going to wash those dishes?” Not quite as much as the text reading “If you don’t clean this oven we’re kicking you out of the flat”, but there are degrees to this.

Having a small child, who I tidy up behind, made me realise how far I had come. Taking such pride in having a clean kitchen, with no dirty dishes or pans in it made me realise how far I had come. The need to protect a newly varnished floor from scratches made me realise how very far I had come.

The first day I took my daughter to school was a big one for me. I had never been out of the house with her alone before that; it was on that walk that I realised that that was the case. I’ve mentioned before that my partner and I are quite close – we do most things together – it means I don’t tend to have a child to myself, unless we’re at home. Even then, there’s usually someone in the next room.

That first day of walking to school, I realised that I was the responsible adult. Up until then I’d always been one of the responsible adults, but today it was all on me. And I am still scared of the outdoors – not fields you understand; being out of the house. I don’t understand the need. Except to get a crazy three year old to school without allowing her to get herself killed. I couldn’t show how scared I was.

Fear does a strange thing to me: it makes me angry: Stop playing with that iron; don’t attempt to do a handstand on the stairs; the dog is not a pony. I understand that, as an adult, it is my duty to keep children safe, yet I find myself intuitively trying to do that through the medium of bellowing. That’s my style of adulting, it would seem. I wasn’t this angry and shouty before I had responsibilities.

At its core, life should be a journey through the ranks. Those ranks are delineated by the amount of responsibility one can be trusted with. A toddler can barely be trusted with the responsibility of standing still in their own home; a child cannot be trusted to deep fry a chicken; a teenager cannot be trusted with the contents of a drinks cupboard. An adult can have all of those things and more.

Those ranks can also be delineated in terms of the degree of self-consciousness with which one feels the need to carry. I have no squeamishness now about buying condoms, a pregnancy test or a box of tampons. Ten years ago? Twenty? I’d have begged for the self-service tills the supermarkets had not yet decided to fill themselves with. No one is judging me, and nor should they: I am a bloody adult.

I feel no shame for the fact that I did not know in my youth what I do now. I wish I knew then what I know now, but that’s pointless. There’s a book I’d love to write where I wake up in my fourteen year old body. Great premise, but it soon becomes bogged down in score-settling and a self-aggrandising need for betterment. I have no interest in reading that, let alone working out how to write the thing.

What then of the future? Once you have attained the level of “Fully Grown Up” there seems to come a phase of regression, to the elderly: your children can take care of their own lives, perhaps even becoming your care giver; you have retired from your work, and the process of divesting yourself of your former responsibilities has begun. In the hard-hearted world we live in now, you have WON.

I’m guessing it doesn’t quite feel like that. For all the bravado and “look how free I am” of the retired people I know there is still the understanding that they are on the final stretch now, that they need to do everything they can to make the most of their last days: spending time with the grandchildren; taking up that hobby they’d always eyed up; getting high on crack. If not now, then never, I’m afraid.

An emeritus position on the board of life: no longer the matriarch / patriarch, but the easy going fun-time Larry they could never unleash before now. You spend your life planning for the future, only to find that you’re bored of your own company, and your kids feel that they know far more about it all than you. Not the worst way to end up, but hardly what all of those “Grown-Ups” exactly aspire to.