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Slouching Toward Adulthood, Part 1

"Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven."—Yiddish proverb

The clock struck noon. It was a weekday, bright and shiny. I gently knocked. “It’s late—sweetie, shouldn’t you be getting up?” A few minutes later, Sweetie staggered out of his childhood bedroom in boxers, stubble and a Beastie Boys T-shirt cherished since 10th grade. Five months before, Jed had moved back home after a two-year postcollege spin working at a San Francisco record label. A few months earlier the plans for my son to open an East Coast branch of the company had fizzled—not that this development appeared to have cramped his style. A weekly unemployment check was financing more late-night eating and drinking than my husband and I had done in the last two decades.

“How’s the job hunt?” I asked as he leisurely munched his bagel and paged through a magazine.

Mumble, mumble.

“No, really, how’s it going?”

I realized that You Can’t Go Home Again wasn’t on my son’s English major syllabus.

“Fine.”

“What does that mean?”

This time I got the same look I received years before when I’d heard our son had his first girlfriend. “Who is she?” I’d asked, stoked with motherly glee.

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“I release that information on a need-to-know basis,” Jed answered, “and you have no need to know.”

As Sweetie sat across from me at the breakfast table, I realized that You Can’t Go Home Again wasn’t on my son’s English major syllabus.

All around us, sometimes in our own homes, we see young, well-educated Americans postponing full maturity and its attendant responsibilities. The beloved offspring to which I refer is most likely well over a decade into deodorant, partnered sex, and, depending on gender, tampons or even Rogaine. He or she is way past having earned the legal right to vote, defend our country, drive, maintain private medical records, enter into a contract, marry, smoke, go to jail, and—if he or she has hit twenty-five—rent a car or be elected to Congress. If a parent of such a person tweaks the hair and clothes, when her loving eyes gaze upon this child she may see some version of herself or her partner at the same age. This 2.0 reflection may look down on the reader, literally, from a greater height or have boobs that are a cup or two bigger—or perhaps it just seems that way, with her décolletage so often on display. There might be tattoos and tongue studs, but given Brazilians, landing strips, and manscaping, there’s possibly not much pubic hair, although the parent prefers not to think about that.

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Who are these people sandwiching a chunky stage between adolescence and adulthood, these individuals who resemble adults but aren’t, exactly? The Margaret Mead who lurks within every parent can’t help but notice curious discrepancies between the boy or girl under consideration and the grown-up we swear we were at the same age. We’ve come to think of “adults” as people who “settle down.” Adults are financially independent and fiscally solvent, albeit usually with debt and a mortgage, usually tethered to a steady job or its reasonable facsimile. Trust fund kids never have seemed very adult, even—like Brooke Astor’s greedy old baby—when they’re eighty.

An adult isn’t in a state of constant improvisation. An adult isn’t shackled to his or her mother or father by cell phone or purse strings or both in a three-legged race toward an undecided destination. An adult doesn’t crave constant stroking from Mom and Dad.

In the eyes of most real grown-ups, a random five- or ten-year slice of adulthood does not include going to school, taking a break, going to school again—possibly again and again—starting a job, starting another job, moving in with Mom and Dad, traveling here and traveling there, taking out loans, borrowing from the parents, and imbibing their grandparents’ cocktails while accumulating credit card debt and purchasing cunning yet quickly replaced electronics.

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Adults tend not to post their romantic status online, pulling back the curtains on their private life and publicizing intimate secrets. They don’t fall in and out of love so many times they need Excel to track the relationships before they start to serially cohabitate, postponing marriage, kids, and getting fully established at jobs, much less careers. Adults may have sucked up the fizzy best seller Eat, Pray, Love, but they don’t see Elizabeth Gilbert, its author, as their north star as they wing off for extended stays in Italy, India and Indonesia. These young adventurers may also be unaware that Gilbert followed Eat, Pray, Love with Committed, where the author defends matrimony in pointillist detail. Adults feel that usually by the mid-thirties, they need to stop—and here I use the technical term—farting around.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Slouching Toward Adulthood by Sally Koslow. Copyright © 2012 by Sally Koslow.

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