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...