The Vanishing Act of Childhood

The Vanishing Act of Childhood June 4, 2022
Everyone knows that nothing makes the not yet grown up set we’re legally obligated to supervise and sustain vanish faster than a sink full of dishes, lawn work or public displays of affection by mom and dad. However, what I did not know until recently, was the power of other adult arenas to motivate my teen and up crew to assist with the first two.
For example, take job applications. The concept of a summer job once one teen has had a summer job, no longer has the magic of invincible ignorance. The kids know, your paycheck will have less than you hoped, the hours will be longer, there will be stinky, drudge elements to the work, and you will be spent when you’re done, and thus have less time to enjoy doing the spending. So when I pulled up what I thought was the perfect summer job for my high school senior –who loves running the tech and lighting crew in the theatre, he promptly cleaned the garage.
I thought it a fluke until I found another job, an internship for another of my kids who loves art, at the museum. She took the car for an oil change. While I appreciated the unasked for assistance –I didn’t comprehend the severity of their aversion until I suggested a summer stint at the movie theatre to my third teen. She folded thirty-seven pairs of socks.
Taken together, the message rang loud and clear –we will indenture ourselves to you who love us and let us sleep in and live off the fat of your checkbook in return for not having to immerse ourselves in the adult world where we might get work cooties.
Adulting is a gradual process, I concede –but I didn’t realize how pervasive the resistance was until I suggested to my recent college grad that we look at cars. He promptly went upstairs and took a shower. When he came down, he noted he could do his laundry. He also helped his thirteen year old brother fix a second breakfast.
It dawned on me, that as long as I kept a steady stream of opportunities to grapple with the harder reality of adulthood at my fingertips, I might be able to have the best summer ever. Turning on the all news radio to provide background adult white noise, I waited for my next opportunity.
I switched out of my shorts and t-shirt and into business slacks and a button down. I planned dinner….it would include fish, salad, roasted vegetables and quinoa. Dessert would be grilled fruit. Yes, and we would have ice tea. I would saturate them with the symbols of adulthood at all points of the day. Sure enough, at the mention of the planned meal, the kids offered to treat their dad and me to a date night. They’d order pizza. We went to see Top Gun Maverick, but told them we saw Benediction because it sounded more grown up. They believed us.
When we got to Saturday morning, they let me sleep in for fear I’d raise the specter of job applications, dental appointments and haircuts. When I did go out, I told them I was going to the drycleaners, drive thru pharmacy and to pick up some dirt for the garden, and no one asked to come with me or be dropped off because it all sounded boring. So I got to pick up a Starbucks Refresher and some fries from a drive thru I didn’t have to share and unrestricted control of the radio. I didn’t have to deal with such diverse environmental controls inside my car that they created a frontal system in the backseat.
The strategy was going great until we pushed it too far.

We told them we were going to the gym, and spend the afternoon at the adult swim at the pool. They noticed the tan. That night, I asked for help with the dishes and there were crickets in response. When I called out to them, one said, “I filled out a job application, and I’ll need the car tomorrow from noon to eight o’clock.” and another, “I’m taking an online class. It will take three weeks.” and third, from the college grad. “My friends are picking me up and we’re going to go look at motorcycles.” My blood ran cold, and then, came the killing blow. “Don’t wait up. We’re going to go out to the bars afterwards.”

They’d thrown me back into the deep end of adulthood and I wanted them to go back to evading that reality for me.
Maria Ronner
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