The Five Stages of Being a Kidult

 

Less than a year ago, I turned 18.

It was strange. At 11:59 pm I was watching Disney’s Princess Protection Program and banging pots and pans together. Exactly one minute later, I had the legal right to vote for my nation’s leaders, to drive motor vehicles and to stay up past my bedtime.

It’s hard to believe that within a few moments I had escaped the pimply angst of adolescence and stumbled into the glamorous world of adulthood. Eagerly, I turned to the mirror to see if I’d been physically transformed in any way. Nope, I still looked the same – like a remarkably short 13-year old with a small, inconspicuous bald patch. I’d had that patch for so long I’d even given it a name. Harold.

To be honest, I even felt the same. I felt like a child. I wanted to go back to my pots and pans. I wanted to lick the icing off cupcakes and the cream off Oreos. I wanted to watch PG-13 movies with adult supervision.

But I was not a kid. And I was not an adult either. Somehow, I had found myself in that blurry no-man’s land in-between the two spheres. I had become a kidult.

And exactly three months later, they packed me off to university.

I found it all terribly unfair. For 18 years straight, I had been told to “Go to your room!”, “Eat your vegetables, young lady” and “Go to bed, now!” And all of a sudden, one fine day, I was being asked to live in a different country, to provide nourishment and sustenance for myself and Harold, and to go to bed whenever I felt like it.  I was horrified. How dare they give me the freedom to do whatever I wanted? Didn’t they know how young and dumb I was?

In the months I have been here, however, I have gradually had to come to terms with my hybrid identity as a Kidult. The process was by no means easy, and it happened in five distinct phases:

Phase 1: Denial

In the beginning, adulthood was a mere technicality. Technically, I was 18 years old, and therefore legally an adult. But this was merely an inconsequential detail. In my first month here, I pretended like nothing had changed. I’d constantly text my mother to ask her things like “It’s 11 pm. I should go to bed now, right?” Sometimes, I’d supply her with mundane details of my life, such as “I just poured some water into a glass and then drank it” and “I am going to floss.” For about two weeks, she pretended to be enthusiastic: “Yes! Stay hydrated, I’m proud of you!” or “Dental hygiene will serve you well later in life!” But as time passed, her attitude changed. First she started to respond with “K”. Then she started to seen-zone me. It felt like a bad break-up. Clearly, if I wanted Santa to bring me any presents this year, I had to grow up.

 Phase 2: Anger

Now that I’d made up my mind to be an adult, I had to act like one. What do Well-Adjusted Adults do? For one, they’re independent. They don’t rely on their parents; they take charge of their own lives. Clearly, I was not very good at this – not only did I text my mother so much that she started to consider a restraining order, I also Skyped my parents every single day. If I wanted to be a real adult, I’d have to wean myself off this destructive habit.

But I couldn’t. I kept trying to find excuses to Skype them.

“I should call; today is Dad’s half-birthday” or “A dormant volcano on the Lesser Sunda islands became active today; I should call to find out if my parents are okay”. Clearly, I was addicted – but good old Skype saved me. Somehow, it realized that I was slipping, so it compensated by freezing every 30 seconds. This meant that instead of talking to my parents, I spent most of my time making Adele proud by screaming “HELLO? HELLO?” at my laptop screen.  Skype made me so angry that I almost threw my laptop out of the window once, but luckily, I couldn’t open it. I took this as a sign: the problem was not Skype. It was me. Much like the Wi-Fi signal in my room, I was weak.

Phase 3: Bargaining

Another thing that independent adults seem to do well is money. But financial responsibility wasn’t really my thing. It took me a while to even register the fact that money has value – it is not a just a piece of paper with pictures and words on it. During our initial week on campus, they’d suggested that we download an app called “You Need a Budget”. My reaction to this was “Lol.”

It turns out that the joke was on me, because I later realized that I was not, in fact, Scrooge McDuck. I was not even a duck. I was an Adult, an Independent One at that, with Expenses.

Having realized this, I began to overcompensate. One of the toughest financial decisions I had to make was “Meal swipe or campus dirhams?” [Meal swipe: 30-unit swipes used to purchase campus meals; campus dirhams: university-specific currency, like Monopoly money, but real]. I needed to have enough campus dirhams to spend on toilet paper, but on the other hand, I also needed meal swipes, because I’m a compulsive hoarder and I liked knowing that I had 200 swipes left on my card at any point in time.

Ironically enough, my desire for financial optimization came at a cost. I’d spend so much time in the queue trying to bargain with myself that my food would often get cold. This made me sad.

Phase 4: Depression

All my efforts to become an independent adult fell through quickly the day I fell ill. It was just a mild cold, but to me, it felt like the plague. I lay in bed sniffling and patting my own head, because that’s what my mommy did when I was ill. I also tried to give myself a back massage, so in addition to suffering from the plague, I ended up mildly spraining my shoulder.

For the next three days, I was a sorry sight. I wanted hot chocolate without having to get out of bed, so I sat on a chocolate bar for a day. I wanted warmth, but the air conditioning in my room was stuck on minus 55 degrees Celsius. I wanted to sneeze, but there was no one to say “Bless you”, so I had to hold it in. And I wanted to be babied, but I was a grown-up.

Phase 5: Acceptance

Clearly, I had no choice. I had to accept the undeniable fact that I was a kidult. In an ultimate attempt to endorse this new identity, I decided to go wild and do the one thing that defines Adulthood: grocery-shopping. I am proud to announce that a few days ago, I went to the Convenience Store, and I bought my first vegetable. Then I called up my mother to inform her of my purchase. “What did you buy?” she asked me. I had no idea. I described it to her, and she scanned her Mother Portal for answers. As it turns out, I’d bought a rambutan. This was, apparently, a fruit. Darn it. My first vegetable was actually my first fruit. Never mind. It was a symbolic victory. I’d conquered my phobia of health, and I’d made a wise investment in my future.

But you know what the best part was?

When I looked into the mirror that day, I realized that I’d finally begun aging into Harold.

Originally published on The Gazelle.

 

Advertisements

Independence 101, By A Certified Freshman

When I was in the 6th grade, I studied about my country’s struggle for independence from the British. I was young and impressionable, and having heard about British atrocities (they spell “color” with a “u”!) I began to develop a hatred for tea and an obsession with attaining independence. The British were long gone – GOOD RIDDANCE TO EXTRA VOWELS – so I projected my vicarious feelings of enslavement onto my parents (who coincidentally love tea). Since I am from the land of Gandhi, I decided that the best way to achieve independence would be by a) fasting and b) initiating a salt march. The salt march didn’t last too long, because I had to literally march for three seconds to get from my room to the salt shaker. The fasting lasted for an even shorter duration of time than the salt march, because my mother baked a cake, and I was basically an eleven-year-old Augustus Gloop. It was when I was stuffing chocolate cake into my mouth and pockets and ears that I had an epiphany: this was not how I would attain independence.

The only way I could become independent was by going to university.

And now that I have achieved that, I must admit that I have unbidden bouts of colonial nostalgia, as I’m sure Gandhi did when the British left and took BBC Entertainment with them.

For the most part, independence is certainly what it’s cut out to be. I ate M&Ms at 12 am yesterday, after I brushed my teeth. I haven’t clipped my toenails for a week so I am well on my way to becoming a moustachioed holy man. I ate breakfast at 11:30 am today, and I didn’t even call the meal “brunch”. I’m such a rebel that Gandhi would see me and go “YO DUDE WAZZUP” and try to high-five me, but I would totally leave him hanging.

At other times, however, I have an acute desire to renounce my independence. My need to be dependent is most acute when it comes to three things: a) Personal hygiene b) Food and c) Money.

When someone’s not telling you to “GO CLEAN YOUR ROOM”, “GO SCRUB YOUR FEET”, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THAT SOCK OFF YOUR HEAD”, personal hygiene is hard. Before coming here, I had never used a washing machine in my life. I thought that trash just vanished from the mystical black-hole voodoo thingy called a trashcan. Back home, when my friends would ask me what I was wearing to a dinner party, “crumpled” and “mild odour” would not have been my adjectives of choice. I’ve always been a big believer in magic (especially black magic, but that’s a story for another day). I liked to think that my clothes ironed themselves without setting the house on fire, that my fairy godmother cleaned the bathrooms, and that Santa Claus took my trash to the nearest recycling station on his reindeer sleigh (I had a weird childhood, okay?). Becoming independent made life a whole lot less magical.

Another thing that has become less magical is food. There was something about not knowing what was for dinner, about sitting at the table and trying to guess from the aromas emanating from the kitchen, about closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, having dinner put before you, and then realising that it was exactly what you ate for lunch. It’s certainly more fun than having to “balance your diet”. Food is present in abundance here, and that’s a problem. There’s no one to stop me from eating breakfast for dinner and lunch for a midnight snack and Oreos with every meal. There’s no one to remind me to drink water when I’m thirsty and eat food only when I’m hungry. It’s difficult to maintain one’s health as a Juvenile Independent. My mother has to Skype me to remind me to not to eat Lays (Salt and Vinegar) for breakfast, and I still “forget”.

Another thing that I tend to forget as an Independent Adult it that money has value. It is not just a piece of paper with pictures and words on it. One of the first things they suggested to us here at university is that we download an app called “You Need A Budget”. My reaction to this was “Lol.” It turns out that the joke was on me, because I later realised that I was not, in fact, Scrooge McDuck. I was not even a duck. I was an Adult, an Independent One at that, with Expenses. I get a stipend here, and for a long time I thought that “stipend” meant a lifetime’s worth of free things, like it is on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “YOU GET A STIPEND! AND YOU GET A STIPEND! EVERYBODY GETS A STIPEND!”

It wasn’t like that.

I needed a budget.

So I’ve made one, and I’ve done all the other Independent Things that I so looked forward to doing when I was eleven. I have officially been here for a month now, and I feel like I am slowly steering my wayward independence back within my locus of control. I wish, sometimes, that I could switch to being dependent for a while, especially when I’m doing my laundry, or ironing, or trying to fend off Freshman 15. But I’m finding comfort in routines. And the possibility that my garbage man might be Santa Claus.


P.S. If you liked this post – and I’m hoping you did, because you managed to get through 900 words of Mushroom Sup’s drivel – I’d love if you could check out my new blog, SalAD. It’s about my life at university, with dressing. And camels. Lots of camels.

All I wanted was to be rich and famous.

What is the toughest question you’ve ever been asked?

For me, “Fries – large or medium?” and “Are you out of your mind?” are top contenders. But they aren’t the toughest questions I’ve ever been asked – not by a long shot.

No, the undoubted winner is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I like to call this question the ‘How It All Began’ question. I’ll explain.

Imagine this: You’re three years old and your parents have guests over. You’re busy playing with your ‘Barney-the-dinosaur’ soft toy. All of a sudden, there’s a lull in the conversation. Nobody knows what to say, so all eyes slowly turn towards you. You’re too young and innocent to know that you are the next victim. “Aww, what a sweet child,” one lady croons. She looks straight at you and asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re taken aback. Grow up? That’s the first time you’re hearing about this. What does it mean – to grow up? And you have to be something? But why? You start squirming. You look at your parents hopefully. But they’re no help – they’re just beaming down at you, as is a whole group of adults. Suddenly one of them comes to a rescue. “Isn’t that a dinosaur you’re playing with? So, are we looking at an aspiring palaeontologist, then?” The adults laugh. ‘Laughing is good,’ you think, so you nod along. You’re only three, and you already want to be something that you cannot pronounce. Thus the scene is set for disappointment, self-realization and a life reconciled to procrastination.    

Just saying.

I really don’t understand why adults would ask unsuspecting little children this question. According to me, it’s one of three reasons:
1. They are genuinely interested. This seems unlikely.
2. They have suppressed memories of adults asking them the same question when they were little, so they are trying to heal themselves by re-enacting the trauma.
3. They want to point and laugh at little children’s dreams because their own childhood dreams were hopelessly crushed and they ended up being accountants. “Oh, so you want to become a ballerina, do you? (snorting) Good luck with that!”  

After lengthy observation (not really), I’ve noticed that there are six phases of childhood and each one boasts of a different answer to this question.

Phase 1 (ages 3-5 years): ‘My own little bubble’
You want to become one of the things in the pictures on the walls of your kindergarten class. A doctor. A painter. Dora the explorer.

Me, I went one step further in this phase. I told everyone that I wanted to be the President of the United States of America. That’s slightly strange, because I’m not even American.

Phase 2 (ages 6-7 years):  ‘Disillusioned: The bubble pops’
By now, you’re completely disillusioned with life. Your mother’s just told you that you can’t get a monkey, so you can’t be Dora the Explorer. And she scolded you for using up all the Band-Aids in your preparation to be a doctor. That’s when you think, ‘To heck with it! I don’t want to be an explorer, a doctor, or a painter.’
So you decide to be a bird.
Or an anteater, in my case. 

Phase 3 (ages 8-10 years): ‘I like the sound of that’
You’ve found that ants don’t taste very good. And you had to get six stiches on your knee when you tried to fly.
But now that you’re eight years old, you’ve heard about a whole range of occupations – and some of them sound really cool. Maybe you decide to be a scientist. Or a fire-fighter. Or a professional football player. Or a feminist. Or an ice-cream man. Sorry… an ice-cream person.

Phase 4 (ages 11-12 years): ‘It’s all about the money, money, money’
You know, scientist, fire-fighter and ice-cream man all seem like really hard jobs. You’d much rather just be rich and famous. No stress, no fuss. Just money. And a big house. Like Paris Hilton. Or Iron Man.

Phase 5 (ages 13-14 years): ‘Can I have a degree with that?’
Okay, your parents are saying that you need to get a degree. You’ve checked and there’s no such thing as a ‘rich-and-famous’ degree. You’re going to have to do something. But it has to be something fun, and interesting. Something you really love. A performing arts degree, maybe. Or a creative writing degree.

Phase 6 (age 15 years): ‘All roads lead to a professional degree’
Yup, it’s settled. Accountancy it is.

So that’s it. You started out with Dora and ended up as a character from Dilbert. Something went wrong along the way, and I think that it’s all because of this pesky question. It just sets the bar too high.

So I’ve devised an ingenious solution. I would be grateful if you could pass my message to as many three-years olds as you possibly can:

Three-years olds of the world: You know when adults ask you “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
You should say, “An adult”.
It can only get better from there.