Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes growing up. Partly this is because I am starting to stand on my own two feet and become responsible for myself as a graduate, partly it is because I saw one of the best (if not the best) stage production I have ever seen last week, Peter and Alice by John Logan, and partly because the production my own theatre company is putting on, Bridge to An Island, also explores in part the moments that we let go of childhood and fantasies. But it is also because of what I have observed in the past year.
As Miranda Hart says in one episode of Miranda, ‘You might call me a child, good. For if adults had even the slightest ‘in the moment joy’ of a child, then frankly the world would be a better place.’ I agree with her, though I suggest she sees adults and grown ups as two different things. I believe that there should be a difference from being termed as an adult and as a grown up. I think you can be an adult without being a grown up and I have chosen to be the former and only the former. I use the term adult to define somebody who can function in the adult world, earning money and being responsible for themselves, without losing the essence of what makes childhood so wonderful. The belief in the infinite possibilities for life, the attitude of I want to do something like run with my arms out like an aeroplane and I don’t care how it makes me look, the joy in the small things; these are things that grown ups forget, with their constant planning and lack of spontaneity, their need for little dishes for condiments on the table, how imagination and fun is taken over by forms and filing and neat, short lawns. But some adults don’t forget these wonderful ways of looking at the world. Grown ups are uptight, but for those that aren’t, I suggest we see them as adults only. Peter Pans with the sense and ability to live in the adult world, look after those who can’t and themselves.
Somebody once told me I needed to grow up, about a year ago. I have to say, considering who told me, it was fairly ironic but still. Apparently, I’m not a grown up. But I don’t want to be. I know I am adult and I believe that is enough. More than that, I believe that is better. I would rather be an adult than a grown up.
But there is a line between being an adult and a child and, I believe, an important one. While there are many wonderful attributes to being a child, selflessness and consideration is not one of them. Respect for others and the ability to treat them as you would want to be treated is something you learn as you age. Even if as a child you are already considerate, you are still likely to avoid upsetting conversations or situations that involve others and put your head in the sand. Facing the hard things is what makes you an adult, especially when they involve both your own and others’ feelings. In this way, you can see Peter Pan as an adult. While at first, he tries to prevent Wendy from leaving him, acting as the eternal child he is, in the end he lets her. He, in part, grows up. But because of the rigid world he and Wendy came from, he could not return to grow up into what he knew he would have to become, what I refer to as a grown up, what he describes as ‘a man’.
While I celebrate those who grow up without becoming grown ups, I still also believe that continuing to behave with childish selfishness and neglect for the feelings of others once you reach adulthood is something to be ashamed of, whatever your gender, circumstances or background. And when I see those over the age of eighteen still acting in these ways, I see them as children, regardless of how many jobs, mortgages, cars or other ‘adult things’ they may have. What you have does not make you an adult and neither does what you accomplish (though the latter does show much). It is by how you treat others you are able to prove you have reached adulthood. Just make you sure you remember to keep the essence of childhood joys with you. Just remember to be like Peter.