How to Make a Bowl of Cereal

If I ever have kids, they’re not leaving the house until they’re 30.

I sometimes take a step back from myself and imagine what I would say if I were not myself and were someone else, perhaps my inner 40-year-old. My inner 40-year-old would say, “19? Go home. If you’re an age that ends in “teen,” you don’t belong here. You look like you’re playing dress up. Take off those ridiculous heels and go home.”

It’s not that I think my parents made a mistake in letting me leave the house when I did. For one thing, it wasn’t up to them. Short of shackling me to the bunkbed I shared with my sister, I don’t think there was anything they could have said or done to stop me when I was ready. I was 18, had a car, a destination, and it was just as well that I also had their blessing.

I spent most of my early life looking forward to my 18th birthday as the day that I was magically granted a nice car that never ran out of gas or needed repairs [I wonder if my mom remembers the times I would ask if we could go visit my grandparents in California. Of course, mom, I know airplanes are expensive. But why can’t we just drive there? Driving is free!] and a house and a dog and a horse, because when I was 18, no one could stop me from the simple task of putting up a fence like the one in my Aunt Sue’s backyard and keeping a horse there. It really can’t be as hard as you think, dad. Gosh.

But then I turned 16 and I got a job and had a few minimal expenses and some distant concept of what it meant to have rent to pay. So by the time I was on my second second-hand car, I realized that it was probably unlikely that I would actually be out of the house by 18. I also sort of came to terms with the fact that this was not only acceptable, most people aren’t actually independent of their parents until after they graduate college, or get married. This was such a dire reality for me that during the Midterm Breakdown of Spring Semester 2010, I sat at the table with my parents, crying because I was afraid that I would never be able to provide for myself and would have to rely on some guy to marry me before I could move out of the house.

Mere months later, at age 18, I was packing my car up to make the 500-mile trip to my new home.

For the first 8 months, I was still not “on my own.” I had almost no bills, a ton of freedom and lots of people to help me out if I were in a bind. But I had no money, and very little independence, which is a whole lot different from “freedom.”

So I got a job (try two) and an apartment and am now, in every possible way, on my own. Even emotionally, I’ve made myself a bit of a loner in that sense of detachment I think most adults have because they understand that people will not always be there when you need them and that you might just die alone, so you might as well get used to the idea. I don’t say that in a jaded, bitter way; I just say it because it’s the truth.

Then there’s your own physical well-being. When you nearly dismember yourself with a staple like I did last night, you have to go out to Walgreens at 10pm and get your own bandaids. There, you see one of your boss’ clients and hope they don’t recognize you, and realize what it’s like to be offended when they don’t. I mean, seriously, c’mon. You see me all the time, lady! Too often, in fact! You come in without an appointment, like, three times a week! Lady? I’m not old enough for the sweats-and-no-make-up me to look so grotesquely unrecognizable from the black-dress-and-brushed-hair me, right? Right?! You better just be pretending not to recognize me. Seriously. Look at meeeee.

To those of you who have been at this whole adult thing for a long time (a nice euphemism for “old”) this is not worth writing about. This is like me writing an instructional article on how to make cereal. But for me, all the time I’m finding some other new thing I hadn’t accounted for in my daydreams of what adulthood would be like. Things like having to check the mail every day.

Checking the mail every day is weird. Grocery shopping is weird. Walmart really intimidates me. To varying degrees, I live some version of this article almost every day.

When you haven’t actually done it, there’s no way to predict the exact way you have to itemize every dollar and every minute spent. There’s no one to remind you of literally, anything. The buck starts and stops with you and your survival strategy. Only you can decide when the dishes in the sink have reached critical mass. This sucks in ways you can’t even imagine, and there are times you think, “I can’t do this by myself anymore.” But you can and you do. And it’s fun. It’s good to have a chance to know that you’re a complete person. Independence is invaluable to me, as it has been since I could first utter the words, “I do it MYself” to my parents.

I write all this wondering if I’ll ever show this to my kids, as a warning or encouragement, when it comes time to decide if they’re ready to face The Great, Wide Somewhere. It won’t matter, though. In the immortal words of Crush the Turtle, “Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?” Experience isn’t passed on by word of mouth, and sage advice honestly rarely matters. Like me, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. And like me, they’re going to be fine.

Especially if they wait until they’re 30.

UPDATE: Oh my gosh, guys, a giant spider just skittered across my floor. This is one of those times I feel like I am just not good by myself. Without someone to “GETITGETITGETIT” while I screech from atop a chair, I am fairly demobilized. If anyone wants to stop by my apartment and rescue me, I’ll be here, trapped on my couch while the spider moves in and leaves its towels on the floor.

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