A few years ago, I was exchanging emails with an up-and-coming desi actor who’d been a schoolmate of mine. “Excited to feature you in India Currents!” I said. “Can’t believe how long it’s been since Challenger.”
His response: “Are we grown-ups?”
I laughed, but then I scratched my head. If 50 is the new 40, and increasing numbers of 20-somethings are boomerang kids, graduating from college to move back in with mum and dad, cycling through years of internships before landing jobs, if the vast majority of men and women in their 20s are happily, resolutely unmarried (and uncoupled), if the “target” childbearing age that gets bandied about by Indian parents at dinner parties is 30 (and it is), then when do we grow up?
Last year, at a shower for an Indian-American mother-to-be approaching her Jesus year, I had the strange experience of being one of very few married women under 35. This was a multi-generational shower, and as I talked to the 50- or 60-something mothers present, cake-pop firmly in cheek, I found myself the subject of curious scrutiny. “Tell me something,” a sari-clad dame asked, “why did you get married so early?”
I was 26. But for many of my peers, the thought of being married in your 20s, never mind having children, is anathema. And not just desis. A Jamaican professor-friend looked askance when I suggested that my then-boyfriend and I would probably try to “get the wedding over with” before finishing our Ph.D.s “Your 20s are for you,” she said, slowly shaking her head.
File that under new conventional wisdom. Our 20s have become a long decade of starting up, ten years to become who we are going to be: grown-ups. And even though I am an unusually young married lady (don’t laugh, Mom), most of my grown-up experiences have had little to do with conventional markers of adulthood: children (don’t have any); job (still in school). So here are some new grown-up things that, in my experience, separate the women from the girls:
Subscribing to the newspaper. Ok, nobody does this anymore, but one of the things I love about visiting my parents is that there is sure to be a stack of week-old newspapers lying on the coffee table, the daily jumble neatly completed in my father’s handwriting. I pay $15/month for news just to have that responsible feeling.
Taking out renter’s insurance. I didn’t bother for my first two years of apartment living, but my husband insisted and now we’re covered. I have no idea what’s in our apartment, haven’t catalogued, itemized, or photographed anything, and the insurance company will never believe how many expensive wedding presents were in the closet collecting dust, but it’s good to know we’ll get back the cost of the DVD player in case of a break-in.
Cooking a meal (without calling Mom). I’m talking about a balanced meal: vegetables, salads, fruits, starches, proteins, multiple colors and food groups. Served with wine and home-made raita. Extra points if you have three dishes going on the stove at the same time.
Tying your own sari (see above). Extra points if you wear a sari to a non-Indian function. I once wore a sari to a wedding in Oklahoma. As the bridesmaids bounced to “Sweet Home Alabama,” I felt distinctly out of place and, importantly, very, very old.
Running in a sports-bra. This is one of those things you either do because you’re young, slim, and confident (the kind of girl who wears bikinis on the beach—you know, normal teenagers), or, in my case, when you’re old enough that you finally don’t care what anybody in the neighborhood thinks about your love handles and unwaxed underarms, and it’s hot outside, so whatever.
Waxing your own legs. There is nothing like self-waxing to bring out the inner masochist, who is almost always a grown-up. I had a great moment of revelation-into-womanhood when a girlfriend mentioned waxing her own bikini line. Brilliant. And all that time I’d been awkwardly pulling my shorts down my thighs as my waxing lady (waxing aunty actually) worked toward the panty line, trying to save us both the embarrassment.
Not waxing ever. My preferred method.
Getting your eyebrows threaded on your lunch break. This simple act communicates three important grown-up things: 1) you are busy; 2) you are efficient; 3) even though you don’t wax, you maintain minimal grooming standards.
Paying your own rent/car registration/electricity and water. Recycling/taking the trash out. Extra points if your rent is a mortgage, your registration is for a car you purchased yourself, and you compost food scraps.
Hosting a dinner party (with at least two appetizers). My husband is a much better cook than I am, but I do my part when we have people over, and nothing says “grown-up” better than hors d’oeuvres. You may never be as a good a cook as your mother, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be half the host.
Serving aperitifs and after-dinner liqueurs. See above.
Sanding/staining/finishing your own furniture. We recently did this with an unfinished chest of drawers. I don’t know if this is a marker of adulthood (my parents certainly never stained anything), but it’s up there with washing your own car and mowing your own lawn. You know, all-American DIY stuff that proves you are more capable than most Indian dads.
Finding your own dentist/doctor. The transition from a family doctor to your own, to someone who mercifully doesn’t know your childhood history, and to a dentist who doesn’t know you didn’t floss between ages 10 and 20, should be up there with the major milestones of adulthood. I love my new dentist. She thinks my gums are healthy and doesn’t infantilize me with bubble-gum-flavored tooth polish or by asking me to choose my own toothbrush. We have a very grown-up relationship, and I found her all on my own.
Getting your own cell-phone. This might well be the final frontier. I’ve been plowing my way through the above markers of womanhood, but the cell-phone plan is up there with full-time employment and breeding the next generation. I’m not old enough, anyway. I may be grown, but there are years to go until I’m ready to leave that family plan.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is still in her 20s.