Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I found her huddled in the corner of her bedroom, looking sad.

"I don't want to be a grown-up!" she wailed.

I don't know what brought this on, what tipped her off to the perils of adulthood, but a bit of probing revealed a pressing concern: "When I'm a grown-up, I won't be able to play with Mary anymore." Mary is her best friend, a bit of an on-again off-again playmate whom Pie was apparently imagining in an eternal kindergarten, playing with other kids while Pie was forced inexorably to grow up.

"You know," I told her, "when you're a grown-up, Mary will be grown up too."

Pie's face lit up, her arms raised in a V for victory, but then suddenly her face fell. "But then you'll be the grandma. And I don't want that!"

I pulled her onto my lap and tried out various comforting strategies. You don't have to move out until you want to. You won't be a grown-up for a long, long time. Finally I found something that worked. "When you're a grown-up," I promised, "I will call you on the phone every single day."

Comforted, Pie snuggled into bed and when I came in to wake her up the following morning the first rapturous words out of her mouth were, "I love that you're going to call me every day when I'm a grown-up."


When I'm teaching Peter Pan I always call J.M. Barrie out for his nostalgia for lost childhood. This, I explain to my students, is not how children feel about adulthood. Children want to grow up. They look at garbage collectors and gas station attendants and assume they do those jobs for fun. To a child, adult life represents freedom and power. No child ever greets a birthday with a groan of dismay. Growing up is a child's Holy Grail.

So I've had to eat my words since that conversation with Pie - and deal with some flack from hubby, who thinks it's a bit rash to promise the children that they never have to leave home. In hubby's family, independence is the highest value. My in-laws are gems precisely because they place such a priority on the ideal of non-interference. But Pie is her father's daughter, as well as mine, so the other day she returned to our earlier conversation.

"What did you say you were going to do again, when I'm a grown-up?" she asked.

I smiled lovingly. "Call you every day!"

"That's right," Pie confirmed with a nod. But then she frowned. "Well," she added in an exasperated tone, "not every day!"


Prairie Rose said...

Not ALL children are longing to grow up. I clearly remember the night before my thirteenth birthday, when I sobbed my heart out because "Tomorrow, I'll be a teenager and I can never be a little girl again."

Strangely enough, the next day felt pretty much the same as the previous ones. ;)

Carol said...

I was in the same boat as Pie. It didn't help that my father would sometimes moan, holding me tight, "Oh... my little girl is going to grow up and leave me..."

My childhood was a pushmepullyou of my mother trying to force me to be independent against my will. She made me wash my own hair when I was 12, refused to tuck me into bed any longer when I 13, and stopped reading to me before bed when I was 14.

I was no fool. I could see adults, and I had no interest in getting onto THAT train. I didn't want to be a grownup - they walked, instead of running. They talked about taxes, instead of planning the next let's pretend. They didn't find knock knock jokes funny. They thought about money and work instead of dreams and chocolate. They had the right to stay up all night, but they chose to go to bed. They had the ability to make themselves dessert for dinner, but chose to make brussel sprouts instead. Clearly something terrible happened to your brain when you grew up, and I wanted none of it.

I STILL feel that way. I loved my childhood, and I miss it like hell.
I judge myself for thinking about taxes, and for walking everywhere I go. I don't talk to my stuffed animals nearly as much as I used to. It takes increasingly much more exertion to see and speak to my old imaginary friend. The magic has gone out of Christmas.

Why would anyone want this?

Bea said...

Carol - I too remember being dismayed at the way my mother didn't like swimming and got boring gifts for Christmas rather than toys. But it didn't put me off the idea of growing up - I was convinced I would be different. And now, of course, I am exactly like my mother - I hate swimming and I like boring non-toy Christmas gifts. But I prefer adulthood to childhood - I don't miss being a child at all.

planetnomad said...

My daughter's like Pie. She doesn't want to grow up. Now that she's on the brink of adolescence, it's changing though. She's starting to want more independence, to see that it doesn't all have to be boring.
I didn't want to grow up either, but now that I'm here i find I like it a lot better than I liked childhood.
What I miss is my kids being little. Esp this time of year. They're excited still, but it's not the same at all.

Nicole said...

I was always anxious to grow up, and I don't miss being a child at all.

My son once said that he was going to live with me forever and ever, and instead of having nice maternal feelings ("Awwww...") I just had a shudder-worthy image of him living in my basement at age 40. Fortunately, I covered up my distaste and just said "You might feel differently when you are grown."

Veronica Mitchell said...

My 4yo is like Pie. She will insist that she is NOT a big girl and does NOT want to be one EVER. I usually tell her (gently) that everyone grows up whether they want to or not, and then move on to other subjects. All of my other kids want to grow up very much.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I think kids want to be taken care of but they don't want to be told what to do (or not to do). Just like adults.

Swistle said...

I love this.

My mom says I had one foot in my own apartment from the age of 2. I was eager to be a grown-up; I don't miss childhood. I was worried about some aspects (high school kids get NO RECESS?? grown-ups don't play with TOYS??), but not enough to want to stay a child.

Bon said...

i went through a very vivid period around 5 and again around 9 where i desperately didn't want to grow up.

much as i wanted certain kinds of independence, i've never been good at knowingly leaving things behind forever.

and with childhood, i think i knew that i was being absorbed into a much bleaker view of the world than the one i wanted to cling to.

now, i can't imagine going back.

Anonymous said...

This is so cute! I've had to tell Geister a few times that he doesn't have to leave home until he wants too. Boo on the other hand, HAS left home already without my permission, and had to be chased down the street.


Gwen said...

I wanted to grow up when I was a child, but my own daughters seem to be more like Pie, with little desire for adulthood. Maybe I've made life too easy for them. :)

Mimi said...

Ah. I love that she wants you ... or maybe not ... to call every day. I call my mom every day, more for my sake than for hers, which is weird, no?

Mimi said...

And now that I'm a grownup, too, I don't feel like I have to run down to the hotel pool immediately and stay in for two hours. Which disappoints me.

When I was in grade 7, probably suspecting that what was coming was not all it was cracked up to be, I went through a completely unironic pigtails phase, a last gasp at 12 of what was quickly receding. Everyone made fun of me, and I was deliberately oblivious.

Bea said...

Mimi - I had a friend like that, but when your pigtail phase occurs at 14 and in grade nine, it's a lot harder to get away with.

Carol said...

@Bea: Really? Oh man, I can't think what's NOT to miss about childhood. Meals cooked for me. Didn't have to worry about finances. Lots of play time. No overwhelming responsibilities. No worrying about my weight. Wild flights of imagination. Not feeling like an idiot for bringing a teddy bear to a restaurant.

I need a kid so I can carry teddies in public places without drawing strange glances, and so I can indulge in crazy flights of fantasy with someone who will come along with me.

I don't understand what the fascination with adulthood is. It bites ass. I remember girls in my class, in such a hurry to grow up, giggling over movie stars and talking about make up and thinking "Do you realize how inane you sound? Growing up should not be dumbing down..."

@Mimi: I totally still drag my husband down to the hotel pool, but can rarely get in two hours. I'm lucky if I get an hour!

Bea said...

Carol - Probably the biggest perk of adulthood is that I get to choose my own peer group. I'm not trapped in a room full of 30 peers selected solely on the basis of geography, so instead of being one of maybe 3 Ns in the room (in Myers-Briggs terms) I can migrate towards social environments in which I am actually fairly normal. Being a grown-up has meant that I don't have to constantly force myself into an uncomfortable social mold. The other big perk is unlimited access to chocolate.

The Never Fairy said...

What a charming story! I think Barrie might have loved it. In fact, it's very much what he had said he didn't like about growing up... that he'd have to give up playing games. Fortunately, we know we still can! ;)
Thanks for sharing this anecdote.

You might also want to check this book out... based on Barrie's own idea for more Pan adventure. It delves a little more into the "growing up" thing, too. :)


Kyla said...

Her reply at the end is just PERFECT. LOL.

KayTar can't wait to be "SIXTEEN AND DRIVING". Gah!

Carol said...

That makes sense, since I am INFJ and rarely fit in anywhere, but I still find the same problems I had before. Instead of being in a group of 15-30 kids, I'm in a group of coworkers, and it's the same thing all over again, except now I can't go crying to teacher when I'm being bullied, and my peers actually have a hierarchy over me instead of being true equals like in the classroom.

Jaelithe said...

My son insists that he will never want to move out of the house and will always want me and his father around. When he says this, I tell him that he is welcome to live with me as long as he NEEDS to, but adulthood is a very long ways away, and he may get tired of me.

Yet he also has started pushing me away when I try to comfort him after he falls down, saying that he's big enough to take care of himself. When he does this, I tell him that he's certainly getting big enough to take care of himself, but even big grown up men who can pick up and carry their own mothers are allowed to get hugs from their mothers when they are sad.

kittenpie said...

Pumpkinpie has had more than one of these same minor crises about how she doesn't want to grow up and leave home, wailing that she wants to live with us forever.

I've assured her that that is because she's not ready yet, but by the time she grows up and is ready to go out into the world, she will want to. We're fairly strict, so I can pretty much guarantee it.

Jennifer said...

On my 21st birthday I sobbed incomprehensibly over the phone to my mother.

"Now I'm an adult! I'm supposed to know what I'm doing with my life!!"

My old mother responded,
"Well then I must be a REALLY late bloomer sweetheart, because I'm 41 and I haven't got a clue what I'm doing!"

tya said...

nice post