While I did take spring quarter of my senior year to play and not take classes, I mostly saw it as a reward for getting all my coursework done in a prompt and efficient manner. However, most of those 10 weeks were spent either shredding paperwork (I worked for a lawyer very, very part time) or looking for jobs. While I schlepped through March, April and May, I knew that come June I needed to have something in place for “next steps.” Granted, returning home was an option – I did so immediately following graduation – but it took me no time at all to get the apartment after securing my first job. I am very grateful for the hospitality the ‘rents showed, but I was also ready to let those wings do a bit of flapping. Since then my parentals have helped me out of a jam or two and, in general are excellent supporting roles in my life.
The NY times will be releasing a piece over the weekend about the elongation of the formative years, that space of time between child’s life and adulthood. That gap between tree houses and home mortgages. Now, this is something that youth directors have been talking about for years (literally. I think I first heard it at a YS in 2006 and I’m NEVER that on top of things), the idea that HS or even college graduation isn’t any longer the step off point into adulthood. In my father’s day, at 18 years old you were heading to college, joining the military or getting a job. Now, very few 20-somethings are faced with sink or swim dilemmas. And yes, this does include my age bracket – I did, after all, marry a boomerang kid.
So the conversation I had recently with a friend of my father’s jumped out at me with this background in place. K would be entering his sophomore year in college but has opted not to return this fall – he is itching to enlist in the military. And not just any military – the jump-out-of-planes, deployed-ASAP Marines military. Needless to say, his parents are less than thrilled.
I say this ignoring the political context; I (and K’s parents) have the utmost respect for those entering the military, those sacrificing so much for the freedoms we enjoy. K’s parents don’t believe they are “above” those parents who have someone on the front lines. But that doesn’t’ mean they’re rushing him to the recruiter’s office. This is a very mature decision to make and K’s parents worry that he doesn’t truly understand what it means when he signs on the dotted line.
So my questions. Is K mature enough to make such a decision? He’s lived a pretty cushy life, his parents have provided him with numerous amenities growing up, he lives a very safely with few things that challenge him. He’s a bright kid. But coasting through schoolwork and understanding the practical meaning of life and death aren’t necessarily on the same page.
And then: if K isn’t mature enough to make such a decision – if he really doesn’t “get it”, what he’s signing up for – then who’s fault is that? And I’m not going to take the easy route and say it’s his folks. I don’t think they’ve done much out of the norm in the situation. And they haven’t taken this direction in a vacuum. Our society has its ways of influencing and convincing us of what “normal” is.
I hope that, no matter what decision K comes to, he is safe where ever he might go. I hope that he leans on wisdom beyond himself and his peers when he weighs his options. I pray that the appeal of excitement, when compared to the stack of textbooks, isn’t the only voice he hears.
But I also hope that he doesn’t simply do what he’s told. I hope this decision isn’t yet another example the sociologists might cite in the epidemic of kids who don’t seem to grow up. I hope this is another step toward independence, understanding himself, and living the best possible version of himself.