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how many cigarettes does it take to break the ice?
i'm not grown up, am i?
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

On the weekend of Thanksgiving, I took part in what has become a bit of a ritual -- hanging out with friends from high school that I only see on the weekend of Thanksgiving. It's pretty impressive as to what changes can happen in a year. How do you measure a year? 525,600 minutes? Don't get me started.


Anyway, among the big news this year -- Abby (well, one of them) is engaged. Janie's pregnant. Debbie lives with her boyfriend. Adam makes extra cash watching TV at nights and on the weekends and is congenitally single.

(Yes, I'm talking about myself.)

But it did get me thinking: friends who are married. Friends with kids. Friends who are pregnant. When, exactly, did we become adults?

Of course, the flip side of that is in a lot of ways the people of my generation are still kids. I should mention that part of the night was spent playing -- at the request of a friend of mine -- a game that consisted of placing a penny on a napkin suspended on the top of a glass and burning cigarette holes in the napkin until the penny fell into the glass. I should mention that they had not yet come up with a penalty for being the loser. I can see this game catching on everywhere.

The point is, for me and a lot of my peers, we're sort of trapped in this maturity-limbo. I don't know, maybe everyone feels that way. Maybe maturity just means that you can't indulge in every single hedonistic desire that comes down the pike. Or maybe it's just using phrases like, "comes down the pike."

My friend Kim suggested recently that she knew she was an adult when she started dreading snow instead of celebrating it. When a blizzard doesn't mean a snow day, but rather, a dangerous drive to work, I can't say I blame her. Given, I take the subway everywhere, so for me snow just usually means I get to sit in a heated train car for a longer period of time.

But really, what, in this day and age, defines a grown-up in our society? Obviously, thought number one is that you're self-sufficient. You can support yourself, buy the basic amenities, make critical thinking decisions that enable you to survive without a parental safety net.

But the truth is, I know plenty of people who are living on their own, making a decent living, and I would never consider them to be grown-ups. They might have money, but they're using it to jet-set around the world, buy expensive alcohol, and build a revolving door at the entrance to their bedrooms. They're not at all interested in settling down, raising a family, or, really in the end, growing up.

So maybe that's the answer. Maybe it's about having children. I imagine that creating a life that you're ultimately responsible for is definitely a way to grow up, right?

Well, not necessarily. I can point to hundreds of cases of parents who are really still kids themselves. In some cases, like accidental pregnancy, they are literally kids. In other situations, they just can't bring themselves to grow up, to buckle down, to step up to the responsibility placed on their shoulders. Too many clich├ęs? That's from the Lance Kraemer school of parenting, Mr. Big Britches.

Maybe it's just how one thinks of oneself. This past Thanksgiving, my grandmother, my parents, and I went to their friends' house for the celebration. I can't tell you how relieved I was to find out that their friends had four kids ages 16-26. For a while I thought it was just going to be the adults and me. In fact, half of me every year still feels like I should be sitting at the kids table.

I do have to wonder if everyone feels this way. I mean, when my dad was my age, he had one child (me) and another on the way. Did he feel like a grown-up? Or did he feel like a kid with a job and a wife and kids? Were his parents the grown-ups in his estimation? I'd ask him, but he probably can't remember back that far.

(Not to imply that my father's old, but his social security number is 11.)

Maybe there's another way. Two of the people who read my first draft of this column suggested, independent of each other, that the "adult" feeling has a lot to do with one's parents. My dad said that he really just felt like he was playing at being an adult until his father passed away. My friend Bill commented on the time in your life when the kids start having to take care of the parents. His comment: "That's quite a kick in the head." Luckily, I don't have to worry about either of these issues: a) my father is going to live forever, and b) he's got another think coming if he's under the impression that I'm taking care of him.

Maybe there is no defining moment. I have a theory that the only thing different in points of view from 16-year-olds and 60-year-olds is that the older men have more life experience (which obviously influences one, but doesn't create maturity, as such). Beyond learning from the lessons that come from that experience, maybe we're all still just waiting to be as grown up as our parents always seemed.

I mean, I know technically I'm an adult, and I'm ready to accept the responsibilities and social implications of that position. I'm ready to meet the woman I'll marry and maybe start a family. Or at least ready to start the relationship that will last me into old age. But I'm in no hurry. I'm enjoying my 30s being single. When I meet her, then I'll maybe I'll even feel like an adult. For now though, it is not, in fact, beneath my dignity to climb a tree. Feel free to join me.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer


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topic: humor
published: 8.8.05

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a mini-guide to bars i can walk to from my apartment
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topic: humor
published: 6.10.09


robert melos
12.9.05 @ 2:42a

I'm 42 and now taking care of my elderly mother, and struggling to financially survive, and dealing with everyday life, and I don't feel like an adult by most definitions. I think you're an adult when you stand up for something you believe in, even if it isn't the popular decision. Making a choice based on reasonable information, and being comfortable with your decision.

sandra thompson
12.9.05 @ 9:05a

Are you crazy? I'm not growing up, not for anything. Don't even suggest it. People who have those deformed X chromosomes called Y chromosomes don't have to grow up, and neither do I. Neither do you. Neither do any of us. I fooled my children. They thought I was a grown-up until they more or less grew up themselves and realized it was just brilliant method acting on my part. A lot of people who grow up forget how to fly, how to laugh, how to take chances, how to do something just because.

mike julianelle
12.9.05 @ 9:33a

It's all about faking it. You're only grown up in the eyes of other people, never in your own. If someone depends on you, like a kid, then they think you're a grown up, even if you get smashed and play videogames when they're not around.

I wrote a column similar to this one, Adam, about how there don't seem to be any guidelines anymore. You kind of removed the "anymore" from the idea, and you might be right. But I think a large part of the limbo a lot of us feel is due to a lack of expectation, or, more tactfully, more flexibility. Suddenly being single in your thirties or not having that career job isn't a sign of failure, it's a sign of freedom.

juli mccarthy
12.9.05 @ 10:53a

It wasn't too long ago that I noticed some significant changes in the invitations I receive. There was a period in which I got a lot of invitations to my friends' weddings, then I was getting invited to a lot of baby showers. Now I seem to be attending funerals for my friends' parents and getting invitation s to my friends' CHILDREN'S weddings.

I am now realizing that "middle-aged" doesn't mean you're in the middle of your own life, but that you're responsible for the maintenance of both the generation following you, and the one preceding you. And I feel like I skipped my own "hey, I'm a grown-up now" period and went directly to middle age.

elisa koppel
12.9.05 @ 12:39p

It's funny the things that make us feel like adults...owning a chandelier, for instance (you can be a kid and own a home, but a chandelier, not so much). I know for me, more than my friends getting married and havind kids, was when friend my age started getting divorced.

At any rate, however adult we may be, it's still important to be a kid now and then. You're never too old to play in the snow (as long as it isn't scary and/or yellow).

adam kraemer
12.9.05 @ 2:27p

From an e-mail response I got:

"I have talked about this with my friends many times. I have a friend who is pregnant, a planned pregnancy between her and her husband. Even though it was what she had be trying for, when she found out she cried for three days. She doesn't know if she is "adult enough" to take care of a child. You look in the mirror and minus those few extra lines, there is still an 18 yr old staring back at you. At least that is what I see."

david damsker
12.9.05 @ 5:04p

and b) he's got another think coming

When my dad died, I definitely felt like I became an adult at that point. No one to ask about stuff for advice anymore.

robert melos
12.10.05 @ 4:53a

I've been thinking a lot about this today. I'll revise my first opinion of what makes us an adult. I realize the one thing I avoid is making decisions, especially when other people are concerned. I've got a sneaky suspicion adulthood truly begins when you start to make decisions for other people while taking in mind the other person's feelings and considering what effects your decisions will have on yourself and the other people.

tracey kelley
12.10.05 @ 10:44a

I think I agree with David - when older loved ones started dying, I recognized the circle of life a little more clearly, and felt more "adult" responsibility because of it.

However, the "grown up" thing? Refer to the column I wrote when I turned 36, almost four years ago. Most days I still feel that way.

lucy lediaev
12.11.05 @ 11:57a

I agree that you start to grow up when you have to take over for your parents--whether they leave you from severe dementia or pass away. And, because of modern medicine, that middle-aged period, which Julie describes, can go on for many years into your own senior years. I may well be receiving social security before my mother passes away in the nursing home where is is sheltered because she can't safely live with us or in her own home.

Nonetheless, there are many times, especially when I am writing, when I don't feel a bit grown-up. In fact, I'm still trying to figure out what I'll be when I grow up!

russ carr
12.15.05 @ 10:41a

At least you don't Anderson Cooper's problem, Adam.

tracey kelley
12.15.05 @ 12:17p

That's SO funny!

Anderson Cooper is very hot, by the way. Just as an aside.

mike julianelle
12.15.05 @ 12:28p

I really liked Cooper's column! Funny stuff. Didn't know she was his mom.

russ carr
12.15.05 @ 1:20p

I heard two stories on the radio on the way into work this morning. Both of them lack corroboration in my mind, but here they are:

The first was about a guy who called an 'escort service' for a little company; the girl who showed up at his hotel room was...his daughter. (They didn't provide many details on this, sounds too urban legendish to me.)

The other, though, was about a guy in France who carried on a long-term online relationship with a woman (also in France). Their chats and e-mails became more sexually charged, and eventually they agreed to meet each other on a beach in Southern France one night. When the guy showed up, he could see her from a distance, dressed as she'd promised. He gets close, she turns, and...it's his mom. (A web search turns out that the story originated in the Weekly World News, so again...take it as you will.)

mike julianelle
12.15.05 @ 1:21p

I have heard that first one, and think it was a guy in Singapore or somewhere in Asia, and when he answered the door and saw his daughter, he had a heart attack and died!

adam kraemer
12.16.05 @ 10:58a

Mike - I read that one, too. It might not be an urban legend. Someone check Snopes.

george crego
12.18.05 @ 4:04p

This is a column I can very much relate to - maybe too much. I am all about maintaining my youth, although I do a good job at destroying it ironicly enough. ( at least my physical health and looks : ) ) I think that's why I have an undying passion for music. It helps me maintain a craft, keep my attention focused on something worthwhile, gives me hopes, gives me dreams, and helps me to touch other people and to meet some very interesting characters. I am working on making this a feasible living for myself too, but that's where the challenge lies for me. I related very much to this article, though ... thanks Adam. I feel ya' !! :)

dr. jay gross
12.19.05 @ 12:02p

From the time I graduated from toilet training and being able to feed and cloth myself I was grown up enough to be as adult as I would ever get. The book, "All I Needed to Know I Learned In Kindergarten" has become my bible for life. Every decision I've made since has been as traumatic or difficult from the time I was able to think to qualify me as an 'adult' if this is the criteria. I think I will continue to make my mud pies, draw in stick figures, and fail at times to carry out what others may think my responsibilities SHOULD be.

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