On Writing Checks and Trying to Be an Autonomous Human Being

Every time I write a check, I feel like I age five years. It’s one of those actions I always placed in the “Adult” category along with paying taxes and driving a Lincoln. But since I always need to pay the Bursar’s office for something or other, I find myself writing checks often. The first time my mom told me I would have to write one myself I told her I didn’t know how — she laughed and thought I was kidding. So yeah, I’ve Googled “how to write a check.”

I feel really grown up for a few minutes afterwards. ‘I am a totally capable and mature adult person,’ I think to myself. And then I trip on a brick and remember that I still haven’t refilled my prescriptions and have left a bunch of work for one night and haven’t done laundry in three weeks and still laugh at poop jokes and forgot to put on deodorant and cried in the library the other night — I am not a totally capable and mature adult person.

That check I wrote has only my name on it, but it still comes from a joint account with my mom — the mom that also does my taxes for me and calls my doctor to schedule appointments. The part of me that wants independence is constantly at war with the larger part of me that wants to let my parents do everything. I’ll do the fun stuff like drive cars and buy lottery tickets, and you guys can do the boring things like pay taxes and go grocery shopping.

Like every other kid, I imagined my life when I would finally be on my own. At that age I didn’t so much want autonomy or emancipation, I only wanted to feel like a “grown up.” As if when I turned 21 they would say, “Congratulations, you can now legally consume alcohol and also here’s your Grown Up stamp; you’ll need it to get into certain events.” as they sent me on my way, completely prepared for all that lay ahead. In my head I imagined my own apartment, furnished with juvenile furniture from PBTeen magazines. I imagined how my first solo road trip to see family would be, but I neglected the fact that I would be paying an arm and a leg for gas. I dreamed of flying to new places without my parents, even though I had no idea how to acquire a passport/check baggage/be independent. All my dreams of grandeur were viewed through rose-tinted glasses and stained with a benign ignorance that only children possess.

I assumed that by this point in my life I would know how to do adult things and be a functioning member of adult society. I’m getting there, but I feel I have so much left to learn. So much energy is invested in teaching kids simple things like sharing or how to tie shoes, but what about me? Where do lost 20-year-olds turn when everyone assumes they already know how the world works? Don’t get me wrong, sharing and tying shoes are important, but where’s my Sesame Street episode about what a W-2 is? Is Blue’s Clues going to teach me how to navigate having a healthy, mature relationship? I think I missed the Arthur episode where they teach how to behave at parties and call people on the phone.

Unfortunately, unfamiliar tasks aren’t the only thing thrown at us at this point in life. As college students we’re expected to handle living on our own for the first time, make good grades, have a social life, make money, and also not go crazy. Right now, I’m not only learning how to do new things, but I’m continuing to learn about my views and life, love and happiness, among other things. Can I be exempt from my organic chemistry exam because I’ve been too busy deciding whether I still believe in true love and monogamy? I know I’m supposed to work tonight, but I’m having a really hard time with the concept of the American Dream and whether it exists; I think I’d rather lie in bed and listen to Third Eye Blind instead.

There is no smooth transition into adulthood; you do not go to bed one night a child and wake up an adult. There’s really no transition at all. No start date, no end date. You’re never really done “growing up.” To some this may be daunting, but it takes the pressure off. All we can really do is take everything one day at a time. Practice calling someone on the phone today and tomorrow you can learn how taxes work. Eventually, these things will become feasible and familiar. Until then all I can tell you is that you’re not alone.

I asked my friends from home what their biggest fear about being an autonomous human being was. I got everything from “feeding myself” to “being along forever.” There is no easy part about growing up. Sometimes I worry that I won’t get a job after college and that my brother will have to support me. Sometimes I worry that there will be a spider in my house, and I won’t be able to call my dad to come kill it. These are the things that keep me up at night. That and Tumblr.

My grandpa tells me, “Don’t sit around waiting for life to begin, cause it’ll pass you by,” and he’s right. Don’t yearn for the days that you’ll be grown up and on your own because you’ll never really get there, and you’ll miss everything in between. Don’t rush into growing up because I’m pretty sure it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. I’ll let you in on a secret: Adulthood doesn’t equal happiness. We’re always learning and changing, and the only thing guaranteed in life is that nothing is guaranteed.

Funnily enough, while writing and editing this article I was involved in my first ever auto accident as a licensed driver in the state of Virginia. But guess what — the sun still rises and life goes on. After I called the police, I called my mom at 2 a.m. to cry and tell her I didn’t know what to do. And she laughed and said that the same thing happened to her when she was my age and everything would be ok. She also said that it was ok to cry, that life is scary, and not knowing what to do is normal.

Half the fun is getting there, or so they say, so relax and enjoy the ride.


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