When I was a teenager an older friend of mine took me into an adult video store downtown. I had lived such a sheltered life I assumed “adult” meant the store was for older people, and I felt a bit excited that I, a youth, might slip in undetected. Of course not five steps into the store I saw a poster for one of the videos, and that excitement turned into embarrassment at being somewhere so… risque.
It’s funny to me, though, that the word adult can be used in that way. I mean, I had wanted to be an adult for so long because it meant everything sophisticated, but there was nothing sophisticated about those videos. I left the shop after about half a second longer, but I had already been inundated with a dizzying array of genitalia on the posters and the covers of those videotape boxes. I vowed to never visit an “adult” place again.
Now that I am an adult I see the power of the word in action all the time, not just for those kinds of places, but for pretty much anywhere, anytime. They card me when I purchase alcoholic beverages because these are for adults. I go in to Rated R movies and no one tries to kick me out, because I’m an adult. I have children who look up to me because I’m an adult, and adults are so… smart. Right? Aren’t we?
I love to read those Facebook posts from millennials saying, “I don’t want to adult today.” I laugh at them because being an adult isn’t a verb, but to them it’s the actions that make you an adult. They don’t want to adult because inside they’re still kids, afraid of making the big decisions adults have to make. Of course I’ve been legally an adult for a longer time than I was legally a kid, so I have some perspective on it from the other side of the lens by this point. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Adults are just like kids. Some are responsible, and others aren’t. A birthday doesn’t suddenly make someone responsible.
- Adults are often moody. Try on a few bills for size and see how moody you end up being after a while.
- Adults need adult time. This summer I’ve spent so much time with my kids to the detriment of adult contact. Sometimes I forget that freak isn’t a real curse word.
- Adults are individuals. No two adults are exactly alike, so saying “Well, an adult told me it was okay,” needs to be qualified. Which adult was it?
- Adults are constantly changing. You think your adult persona is set in stone the day you turn 18? Not quite. Real adults shift and change as they grow older. That’s life. It’s why I don’t believe in the mid-life crisis. That’s just one more layer of change.
That’s why I think the word adult should come preset with a variety of adjectives we can attach to it. There’s the “drunk adult,” who is only good when he’s sober, but that’s so rare you should generally never ask him a question. There’s the “responsible adult,” who should always get the keys on drinking night. There’s the “kid adult,” who never makes good decisions, even when sober. There’s the “wise adult,” who dispenses sage advice, whether you asked for it or not.
Or maybe we should just use people’s names, to highlight the individual aspect of it all in stark relief. Instead of saying we are spending the evening with a group of adults, we should say we are hanging with Dan, Tina, Mo, and Elaine. In this way we can single them out without singling them out. We can treat them as we normally would, without fear of reprisal for having called them adults. “Shhh. We’re adulting here. Just don’t call attention to it.”
Now of course I’m wondering what we call movies that are neither kid films nor “adult” films. Maybe that’s why they invented sections like drama, sci-fi, romantic comedy, and the like, to keep us from asking those questions. And we’re adult enough to understand and go with the flow. Just don’t try to get me to go back to that video store. You know, if it’s even still around.