August. When I was little, August marked the beginning of a giddy slide of anticipation that would eventually deliver me at the threshold of a school building. This little hoop-jumper, who loved chances to be creative in different ways, who loved careful consideration of back-to-school purchases, who loved being entrusted to get things done and the praise she got when she completed them– she loved going school. My homeland’s county fair is routinely scheduled for the first full weekend of August, and I can’t remember how old I was when strolling among the blue ribbon rabbits, sheep, and canned string beans became the signal flag of a quickly retreating summer. As I got older, the fair was where you could reliably run into classmates you hadn’t seen for two months, all of them with unfamiliar haircuts, summer tans, some of them holding the hand of one-half of a summer fling. The fair, in its performance of unspoken community aesthetics and other topics discussed in my Folk Arts class’s study of Leslie Prosterman’s Ordinary Life, Festival Days that I no longer remember, has always been a bleating, bustling, blinking, dusty, cacophonous wedge that held back free-form summer so I could return unimpeded into reality and responsibility. Last year’s fair found me holding the hand someone I had recently told that I loved:
And at this year’s fair, I was holding the hand (when I wasn’t absconding with his iPhone to take the carnival photos you see here) of a husband. A husband. Considerations on the fact of having a husband have led me around to past considerations about the definition of growing up.
First, I remember the hours of discussion in a scattering of college English classes that I refer to collectively as my Angry American Women Writer classes. Pages about the Cult of Domesticity, the far-reaching affects of Victorian morality, and other academic themes now warehoused in the same location as Leslie Prosterman’s canned peaches sharply defined what I took away from college. (I once wrote a paper about eschatological themes found in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and somehow tied my argument to the Grass Roots’ song “Let’s Live for Today” for my class presentation. As my friend LuJean used to say, “Once I was smart; now I am specialized.”)
One bone of contention lying in varying degrees of subtlety in the skeleton of these women’s writings was the idea that women were not complete beings until they were married. These writers railed against the idea that unmarried women lived only half a human existence unless they had a husband, and went on to prove their point as they lived their lives in scandal, impropriety, spinsterhood, and immorality (as deemed by popular belief). LuJean and I, as Mormon women living in Utah and approaching 30 while dressed as historic frontierswomen, also had conversations about the intersection of marital status and achieving adulthood. She once mentioned a twentysomething roommate who’d said that she would never feel grown up until she got married.
It was all the responsibilities that I’d accepted, volunteered for, and defined myself with that prevented me from traveling the road that LuJean’s roommate was on. No half-existence for me, no sir! I filled up any space that would have allowed why aren’t you married yet? to creep in with things to be and become, and I think I did alright.
In my mind, being grown up has never been associated with the trappings of bureaucracy such as car insurance or utility bills, mostly because I know refugee 9-year-olds who help their parents contend with that mess on a regular basis, and those kids aren’t grown up.
Up until recently, my best, most well-thought out indicator of being grown up was this: You know you’re a grown-up when the perfect snowman-building snow falls, and you can’t play in it immediately, because you have to go to work, school, etc.
Over the summer at the university, I watched flocks of incoming freshman wend their ways through my building with one or two parents/guardians/adult role models, brains saturated with new information, the prospect of their first college courses, and the beginnings of a metamorphosis that every child launched from her high school years into an adult-ish world must face. Watching them take in these buildings, these possibilities, for the first time, wakes up the part of me that remembers what it felt like to be their age. I remember what it felt like to believe that a college freshman was old. Nowadays, I hear “college freshman” used as another term for the lowest level of social and academic maturity imaginable.
Ten years out of college, three months married, employed by an institution of higher education– is that enough to feel grown up? Maybe. I feel responsibility differently, certainly. My creativity is accountable to people other than myself, yes. The hoops have been altered in shape, size, and consequence, but the jumping is the same. And though this year I was slightly heartbroken that there was no rabbit contest at the county fair, I still held out my hand to the pulsing shards of carnival light as I zoom down the slide toward another school year.