LEAVING THE NEST
24 May 2002
When I was leaving the supermarket the other day, and rolling my cart up to the car, there
was a little bird sitting on the trunk of the car next to me. He looked a little confused
and not quite sure what to do as this large figure and noisy cart got closer to him. It
was obviously an adolescent who was probably still learning what he needed to before going
off on his own. Eventually he flew up a little bit and then landed on the ground a few
feet away, along with three other young birds, probably siblings.
It's spring, the time when eggs are hatched and the next generation flies off to learn how
to fend for themselves. On my mother's front porch, more dove families are started and she
watches the babies grow to a point where they are pushed out of the nest by mama and then
a day or two when they hang around the porch, as if unsure where to go or what to do. Then
they are gone, until they return the following year to raise their own families.
In the Journal discussion list, Al Schroeder poses the
question, "When did you really feel you crossed the threshold to adulthood? Your
first sex act? The first time you took responsibility for your own actions? The first time
you accepted responsibility for someone else? Do you feel like you're a true adult, even
My immediate reaction, along with several other people, was "am I an adult? When did
I get to be an adult?" Does any of us ever truly feel we are grown up? It's the big
secret that children never find out about their parents--the parents don't really know
what they're doing either; they're just taller!
I do remember the first time I realized that I had to function as an adult, though. I had
left home and attended UC Berkeley for a time, but I left school after 3 semesters and got
a job working as secretary to three Physics professors. I had lived in a small apartment
for a year or so, then moved to another apartment to live with the woman who would
eventually become Ned's godmother. While I was living this carefree life, I ran up some
pretty big bills. Mostly at the photo store. Even then I was an obsessive photographer and
on a first name basis with all the clerks in the store. I had also discovered the
Wonderful World of Credit and before I knew it, I was dealing with $700 worth of debt to
the photo shop, a debt I couldn't possibly pay. My mother came to the rescue and loaned me
the money (I actually can't remember if I ever paid it back...gleep).
I was living a grown up life, but still turning to Mommy to solve my problems.
By the time the bill was paid, my roommate had graduated, I had lived with Char and her
husband for a bit to get myself back on my feet financially, and I eventually moved into
my own apartment again, a little one-room + kitchen studio. I'd been on my own for about 3
years, but still it didn't hit me that I was an "adult." I always had that
fall-back to my parents.
But then I got the flu. I remember so clearly lying in bed, feeling terrible, shivering
with fever, and realizing that finally, I was an adult. There was no Mommy to bring me
soup, to pin a paper bag to the side of my bed where I could throw my used kleenex, to put
her cool hand on my forehead and use the therMOMeter to determine
whether I had a fever or not. There was no Mommy to go to the drug store and buy comic
books for me, or to the library to bring books back for me to read. I was all on my own,
to find my own medicine, fix my own food, and shiver under the blankets until the flu ran
There have been other moments when the reality of adulthood has hit me, but this is the
one time that I remember most clearly.
You feel like an adult the first time a young sales clerk calls you "Ma'am."
You feel like an adult when you bring your first child home and she has a fussy day and
you realize that this isn't just a babysitting job--nobody is going to eventually come
home and relieve you (or pay you). It's just you and this baby. (And you thank your lucky
stars that your first baby is basically a very easy child!)
You feel like an adult when you sign the papers to purchase your first house and look at
all those zeros after the first numbers that you have committed to repaying.
But, as I look at the numbers "60" looming large on the horizon, I wonder if I
have ever really accepted the totality of "adulthood." I keep telling people I'm
trying to decide what I want to be when / if I grow up. I still make childish decisions, I
still have those same childish insecurities. I live under the delusion that if I ever
"grow up," I will feel confident about myself, about life. I'll eventually get
it all together and live happily ever after.
I'm not sure when you finally know that you are really grown up. I haven't gotten there
yet. But I'm working on it. I'm a work in progress.