When I Grow Up...

As a child, you dream about all the things in store for you as a grownup. You'll be able to drive and go wherever you want, when you want. You'll have your own money to spend on whatever you can afford. No one will be able to tell you what to do. You'll have total freedom, and total control.

Then, when you actually grow up, you realize that the rosy future you imagined isn't all it was cracked up to be. There are budgets, responsibilities, limitations, and disappointments that you never would have dreamt of as a starry-eyed child. Suddenly, the life with the perfect job, perfect mate, cozy little house, and two children and a dog seems further away than ever. Instead, today's job market provides newly-minted adults with a new reality of lingering dependency. The jobs one can obtain often don't pay sufficiently to provide a life of security. Only now, two years after graduating college, do the majority of people I knew in high school live someplace other than with their parents, although a sizable portion of them have still not been able to "leave the nest," myself included. Instead of independent adulthood, it seems like many people I know are caught in a sort of prolonged adolescence.

By all measures that we've been taught our whole lives to measure success, it is hard to shake a creeping sense of failure. For those of you who couldn't understand what I meant by experiencing a "quarter-life" crisis, these are its fundamental underpinnings. Just as with a mid-life crisis, the dilemma stems from the clash in how you perceive your accomplishments, relative to where you imagined you would be at a certain point in your life.

That is not to say that there are no bright spots in life. To the contrary, there is still plenty to be happy about -- friends, the excitements of life in a bustling city, family, and good food. To that end, tonight I experienced one of those little victories that let me know that being a grownup does have certain advantages.

Last week, as my Mom took me grocery shopping, I decided to indulge a festering craving, and indulge in a culinary vice that I haven't partaken of in years: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. As a child, Mom would only ever buy the plain, elbow macaroni variety. I would beg and beg for the fun-shaped pasta, made more expensive by the licensed characters who formed the noodles and graced the cans, but Mom, ever-savvy, very seldom relented. With the exception of some Where's Waldo? mac and cheese that I can recall to this day, I had to satisfy my craving for the illicit food product at my friend Audrey's house. Her mom always bought the good stuff. It may have something to do with all the nooks and crannies created by the unusual shapes holding on to the sauce more efficiently, or just the aspect of being forbidden fruit, but the character-based mac and cheese always tasted a thousand times better.

So, as we stood in the aisle at Jewel, I studied the shelf judiciously, and ultimately reached for the Spongebob Squarepants box. "You know that's like 50 cents more than the normal Kraft," Mom said, "Almost twice as expensive." I clutched the blue cardboard box and looked defiantly at her. "If I'm paying for it, I'm buying Spongebob; I don't care!" It was truly a ridiculous thing to feel victorious about; as an adult, with my own money to spend, I could finally buy cartoon character-themed macaroni and cheese. It felt really good nonetheless...

... and it tasted even better.


  1. Hilarious! Thanks for the laugh! I'm just the same as your mother, however, I take it a step further and buy the generic shapeless mac-n-cheese. See, you could have had it worse. Though I did break down just yesterday and buy Disney spaghetti-o's (Cars & Princesses). Perhaps this will be a defining moment in Abbie & Will's lives as well!

  2. Actually, now that you've mentioned it, I think it was Where's Waldo Spaghettio's, not mac and cheese. Maybe it was always the plain kind, all the time after all.

  3. I always thought the shaped ones tasted odd! Give me plain old kraft anyday! I still love it!

  4. I find this an astounding blog, for several reasons.

    First, it must have been "a slow news day" if your blog reporting has been reduced to writing about macaroni and cheese.

    Second, I am stunned to learn that when you were a child growing up, your mother refused to spend a few extra cents to get the character macaroni rather than the generic type. I am even more stunned to learn that as recently as yesterday, she would be raising with you a fifty cent differential in the price. While I'm glad that this childhood deprivation has not heretofore led your becoming an axe murderer, I just can't believe that she would bother to haggle over 50 cents for a box of macaroni and cheese.

    Finally, while I acknowledge you may feel "a creeping sense of failure" in your life, I categorically reject any suggestion of a failure. You graduated from one of the top universities in the country with outstanding grades; although you may have had some help in getting a job in your chosen field, you and you alone have earned the stellar reviews which your employer has given you based solely on your own performance; you and your friends happened to hit the job market at a time when unemployment and the economy in general are at the worst they've been since the Great Depression; and someone who is loved as you are by so many who know you can never be regarded as a failure in life.

    Bag all this "failure" and "angst" nonsense, and let's head to Europe!

  5. Everyone can relate to mac and cheese, except maybe vegans and lactose intolerant people, of which, perhaps one is reading my blog. My exploits in the city might be interesting to city dwellers, but Kraft mac and cheese is universal!

  6. Here is a sobering thought. When I was a kid, the only purpose of me going to the grocery store with my mom was to drag home the two wheel cart full of groceries. Back then, kids could only be seen, and not be heard. Any unsolicited comments were sure to be quieted with a backhand. To be sure, being able to choose a discounted brand was far better than the alternative of eating what mom selected. Far worse, I had to finish what she cooked, whether I liked it or not. Today, my kids love mac and cheese. They go with their mom and get to choose the square pants, long pants, short pants, and price is of no consequence. Dad's only participation in all this is to pay. Yet, I seemed to remember my mother telling me, "When you get married and have your own kids, you can raise them any way you want." Mom, if you only knew.

  7. Perhaps your dad doesn't realize that the longevity of the husband's salary is largely dependent on us stay-at-home mothers. The husband's salary is saved, invested, and stretched due to our frugal shopping. A little generic (or character-less) macaroni never hurt anyone. I fully support your mother's decision to pocket that extra fifty cents. And let's be honest...the Wyatt women LOVE a good bargain!