I recently became a man in the check-out aisle of the Walker Springs Walmart.
By becoming a man, this does not mean I took part in some perverse physical act in public, nor did I have a coming of age ceremony in between the candy display and the Coke refrigerator. Instead, I bought my first vacuum and picked out my first couch.
To many, these purchases seem to be nothing out of the ordinary. Both are necessary items that everyone should have. It's just uncomfortable and rude not to have a couch, and as for the vacuum, its worth lies solely in its hygienic qualities. So why, for me, do these banal objects signify my passage into adulthood?
The rite of passage from being a child to an adult is not only one of the most influential social experiences of one's life; it's also arguable the defining moment of the first half of a person's life. It's the starting point, the genesis of all things that come after it. And the existence of and the importance of this starting point is nearly universal. In Judaism it's a Bat/Bar Mitzvah. For proper Southern Belles, it is their first Debutant Ball. And even the ancient Greeks marked a person's ability to exercise their public rights and duties with the dokimasia. But for me, adulthood was marked by a receipt for a Hoover bagless and a cloth loveseat.
When I was a kid, most everything was done for me. I had chores, of course, but I never really wanted for anything and was never really given too much responsibility. I had a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in and three home-cooked meals a day. All I had to do to earn these things was make my bed, occasionally do the dishes, take the trash out and once every so often help dust away the obscene amount of dust mites that collected on everything wooden in my family home. There was nothing really at stake, and really nothing I had to do to keep it that way.
For many, this youthful stage starts to ebb away as one gets older. With each passing year, from driver licenses to moving out to college, more and more responsibilities are heaped on a person's shoulder, until gradually, without even realizing it, he or she becomes an adult (willingly or unwillingly). Luckily for me, however, for 21 years, I was almost unchanged in my state as a perpetual child.
It's not like I never grew up; it's more that I never took the one giant step forward. When I was a freshman living in the dorms, a time when most college students take that first true step towards adulthood, I preferred to remain idle. Instead of taking up the mantle of responsibility for my own messes, I decided to lie in fallow. In fact, more times than not, my side of the room was cleaned by my exacerbated roommate, who would reach his own personal threshold for dirt every so often. And in this way, I've spent the past three years at college. I'm not necessarily a slob, but rather, if I need something, I ask someone else for it.
I'm not lazy; I just never had the initiative to move forward, and why would I? Being taken care of isn't necessarily a bad thing; like a child, all my needs were taken care of by an outside force. Why should I try and stand in its way?
This was my mentality until recently. But as I draw closer to graduation and the real world, I am starting to realize that no one can stay a child forever. And so in this way, I am brought back to my new vacuum and couch in the Walmart check-out line.
Both are signs of permanence for me. Not only do I need furniture for my first non-furnished apartment, but also for the first time I am investing myself in a place for the first time. I want a couch and vacuum not just because I need them, but because I want them. I want the responsibility of providing my own comfort and creating my own cleanliness. I want to be more like an adult.
I don't know if my shopping spree can be considered a rite of passage. It's definitely no Rumspringa, but I feel it's a step in the right direction.
We, as a society, put so much emphasis on growing up. We ask each other what we will be, where we will be, and we expect others to reach a level of adulthood near the same time. We perceive growing up as natural and inevitable. But it's not.
Growing up is an individual experience. It's not something that should be forced upon someone (though, unfortunately, that's the case for many), but rather, it's something that needs to be done at one's own time and with one's own consent. Because without that, a person can't fully grow up, they'll just keep waiting for someone else to clean up their mess.
— Preston Peeden is a senior in history. He can be reached at email@example.com.