While this experience may not be universal, I am sure that for many of you, your parents ran your lives when you were a child. This is certainly true for me. I would wake up in the morning to see my white polo, striped black sweater, and corduroy pants laid out for me by my mom, who would then make my breakfast and drive me and my brother to school. I lived a carefree life, with no responsibilities whatsoever. And because of that, I craved responsibility.
I began to lay out my own clothes, pour my own cereal. I remember when I scheduled a playdate all by myself for the first time. The only thing that the parents did was give permission. This was astounding to my parents, but they understood that children taking responsibility is just another part of growing up.
In Middle School, I woke up to my own alarm (from my handy iPod Touch-- yet another big responsibility) and fought my brother for the shower. We picked our own clothes, poured our own cereal, and walked ourselves to school. We might see our mom in the morning, but her only role in the morning process was to shout goodbye.
Being self-sufficient made me feel cool, independent, but it also made me feel sad. While young-me still desired responsibility, young-me was also scared of change (which current-me still is).
No longer would I be able to have morning chats in the car with my mom. No longer would I be dropped off in the Lower School circle. As I grew up and took on more and more responsibility, I began to realize how much I missed having everything taken care of for me. I too understood that taking responsibility was part of growing up, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t miss seeing my mom in the morning helping to make sure that I was ready for school.
Nowadays I walk alone to school, with only my podcasts to keep me company. My mom might be woken up by the sound of the front door opening and shout her good wishes to me, right before I go off into the world. This may seem close to a life of self-sufficiency, but upon closer inspection I still live a very sheltered life.
The clothes I put on by myself in the morning? Thanks for cleaning them last night, mom. The muffins I eat for breakfast? Thanks for buying them for me, mom. The dinner that I eat every night? Thanks for making it for me, mom. I may feel like I’m independent from my mom at times, but without her, I’d be lost.
The only things that I know how to cook are toaster waffles and DiGiorno miniature microwavable pizzas. Despite being 18 years old, I still do not know how to drive. I still have a lot to learn before I move on to the next step: College.
Because I have an older brother in college, I have some idea as to the level of independence I can expect once I move out. Making my own schedule, being responsible for feeding myself, scheduling my own doctor’s appointments, all harrowing tasks. Maybe, like my brother, I’ll be so busy being independent that I won’t have any time to respond to text messages from my family (scowl).
Getting used to these changes is one of the greatest challenges in life. I still have trouble coming to terms with my newfound independence, and I probably always will. But thankfully, humans aren’t meant to operate alone. There will always be an uber to make up for my lack of a license, there will always be someone to help me navigate the labyrinth known as “taxes.”
Even though I may feel alone when I am in college, I know that my mom will always be ready to help me check the wording on a professional email. I know that my family will always have an extra bed ready for me. Until I am a wrinkly old man in a retirement home, I will always have more and more responsibilities as I grow older. But there will always be millions of other people trying to deal with those same responsibilities with me.
Because this speech is about going from childhood to adulthood, I thought that I’d bring back some advice that was frequently given in Kindergarten in case we were ever lost: Look for the helpers. As a kid, this means a teacher, a police officer, a crossing guard, but when you’re grown up it means something a little different.
Even when you’re a “real” adult, it is still important to look for helpers, and to be a helper too. Make yourself available, be a friend, be ready to simply listen. And if you’re feeling lost or stuck, look for the helpers. To boil the lesson of this speech to just a few lyrics from a Bill Withers song,
“Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on”
The song is a treat to listen to and is relevant to this speech so maybe put it on in the car on your way home. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this with you. I love you.