At 18, you can view any film, video, or DVD regardless of its rating. If you are adopted, you can apply for a copy of your original birth certificate. You can join the armed forces without a parent’s consent. Secure a license to drive a medium-sized goods vehicle. At 18, you can enter into a contract, have a lease or tenancy agreement, and buy a house or land. You can pawn something. Buy fireworks. Buy pornography. Have a commercial pilot’s license. At 18, you can serve on a jury, leave home without the consent of your parents, and make a will. You can get married. Get a tattoo. Get sued. You can donate your internal organs in the event of your death. You can claim income support and open a bank account without your parents’ signature. At 18 you can vote. You can apply for a passport without parental consent. And you can act as the executor of a dead person’s will.
It’s no wonder I’m apprehensive about my birthday. I’m getting old, and it’s downright scary.
I suppose I should be ready to move into a new plane of responsibility. Like the thirty-something who counts his gray hairs or notes the crow-feet-wrinkles around her eyes, I ought to have been aware of my imminent entry into “old age.” I’ve tried to ignore the warning signals, the fact that my little brother is now bigger than me, that one of the kids I drive to school isn’t old enough to remember Ace of Base. But as I fill out college applications and contemplate registering with a political party, it’s hard to ignore the fact that my perceived childhood is ending. The signs have been adding up for a while.
Sign 1: In October I attended a wedding, my first wedding, though it wasn’t the first wedding I’ve attended. It was the first wedding I attended alone, as an adult. It was my boss’s wedding, the wedding of a young man I consider my peer and friend. I bought the present. I wrote a letter of congratulations to a couple unknown to my parents. I drove to Stanford Memorial Church and sat in the pew wiping tears with the rest of the married and unmarried adults (the former silently reminiscing about their weddings and the latter wordlessly planning their own). I stood in group pictures and hobnobbed during the reception with my friend the gastroenterologist and my buddy the immunologist. I asked after his children.
Sign 2: On Halloween I was more concerned with not running over trick-or-treaters in my car on the way to dance rehearsal than I was with trick-or-treating myself. I didn’t go to Party America and buy black lipstick or fake witch-warts or gold hair spray and prepackaged costumes like I’ve done in the past. I didn’t go out with friends, gallivanting around the neighborhood, skirting toddlers in Dalmatian costumes and 10-year-olds in packs, avoiding their parents following not too far behind. I didn’t pass out candy to the neighborhood kids. I didn’t drape cobwebs over our front porch. I didn’t even carve a pumpkin. For whatever reason, I had no time for Halloween.
Sign 3: When the phone rings, it’s almost always for my younger brother. I just take messages. Messages from his bandmates about rehearsals and lyrical dilemmas, messages from his friends about the corsage he needs to purchase or a debate session he’s supposed to attend. Like my mother once did for me, I write down the numbers and notes and nag my brother to call his friends.
Sign 4: I nag my brother.
Five: I don’t get carded at movie theaters.
Six: It wouldn’t matter if I did get carded.
Sign 7: On Friday and Saturday nights I stay home with my parents, while my 15-year-old brother primps in his bathroom and waits for a ride to my high school’s mixer. At 10:30 I pick him up, waiting in my car, radio and pajamas on, in the milieu of parents and guardians and carpools and rides. He gets in the car with friends, recalling the last slow dance and the DJ’s inadequacies. I listen, and smile because I can hear his words in my own 15-year-old mouth.
Sign 8: A woman in my bharata natyam class turns to me and asks if I’m married.
“I’m barely 18!” I respond, laughing. I look at her face and realize that an age-related response is no longer sufficient. The questioner reveals stiffly that she was 18 when wed.
Sign 9: I no longer think twenty is old.
Sign 10: I no longer think 30 is old.
Mark Twain once quipped, “Age is a matter of mind; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Unfortunately, as I approach my 18th birthday, I do mind, and terribly at that. I take comfort in my freedom from legal accountability. Comfort in the knowledge that my parents could revoke my driver’s license. Comfort that mom and dad must sign all my important documents. I don’t want to buy fireworks. I don’t want to make a will. And I certainly don’t want to serve as the executor of anyone else’s. I’ve come to cherish my minor status, and as I approach my 18th birthday, I don’t want to be a major.
Now that I’ll be able to vote, I’m unsure what to stand for. Now that I can watch R -rated movies, I’d rather see Lilo and Stitch. Now, as I’m literally on the verge of adulthood, I know what my parents meant when they told me to enjoy being a child.
And yeah, 18 is not that old. But it’s getting up there.