a bad case of reflectionitis.
19 November 2005
  adult life
I had been sitting on my ass for hours. On the computer. In the living room. Reading here and there inbetween my well-deserved long-earned slothdom. I'd eaten two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, half a bag of pretzels, stolen one of Martha's Diet Cokes (with lime, mind you), and chowed on cold noodles in the fridge.

The shower I took most more for motivation than for hygiene. I'm not that active; therefore, I am not that smelly. That's the nature of midterms and all of my lifestyle thereafter. I become a less than enthusiastic participant in physical activity out of the realm of dancing or well... dancing. Yeah, all I do is dance. When a fat mood becomes intolerable, I'll sweat an entire Janet Jackson cd of calories off doing a real workout. Otherwise, I am clean and constantly smelling of something fresh, like cherry blossom body lotion.

So sitting around is not a problem. I'm not bathing in my own sweat and bodily disgust. I'm fresh as a daisy. Half-dressed and playing Sonic the Hedgehog. The excess of group projects and homework completed up to this point have certainly given me a "Lazy for a Day" card. We all need a break sometimes, right? Adults work every day and come home, kick off their shoes, and relax -- right?


When Martha came home from her lengthy and emotionally draining nursing clinical, still in her scrubs and unfashionable work shoes; I wanted her to come sit with me. Be lazy, eat chocolates, maybe count some sheep.

But we didn't even get to hello before her backpack was in her room, her coat was hung neatly on the rack, and her hands were unloading the dishes from the dishwasher to go back in their designated cupboards and drawers. She didn't even take off her shoes. Or the nametag on her shirt pocket. She was moving swiftly. I watched her and was exhausted by the simple activity of putting dishes away. Why?

Because I'm not an adult.

Twenty-one is three years past my certification into adulthood by law, but that's no reality. Adult is a term we coin in legislation so old men aren't having sex with little girls and so nice little boys aren't drafted off to war to replace all of the men whose cards have expired. Adult is a word in this sense, but to really live, breathe, and earn the role of adult, one must go far beyond the extinguishing of 18 candles on some cake a loving mother baked in a nine-by-twelve.

I approached my adult roommate as she was mid-task in awe. I even told her that not in a million years would I walk in the door to my home after a long day and walk straight to the dishwasher. To empty it. To do more work. Hell no. I'd kick off my shoes and run straight to the stereo for a 16 track date with Norah Jones. I'd sit down and sigh something lovely. I'd forget that a single task existed because that's what I did all day. Tasks. Work. Make decisions.

I can't believe what is unraveling before me. She's efficiently arranging the spoons and forks in her hand to put them away, and I feel like I'm watching tigers jump through rings of fire. Big, dense Scots picking up cars while wearing kilts, triple sow cows on the ice. It's a feat that baffles me. She had work all day. She's home. Her shoes are still on. The dishes are put away in instants. Before she's off to some other task, I am sure. Then she says a phrase I've heard before... in the somewhat distant past:

I just want to get everything done now so I can relax later.

I lived with my Dad in high school. It was just the two of us in a cheap, unimpressive little man's pad in Kenosha's old Italian ghetto. We were an outfit. Cooking meals, only washing the floors when necessary, folding whoever's unmentionables just so happened to be in the laundry basket. Easy, uncommitted living. We were both bachelors. But only one of us had a job.

I'd get home from school at about four every day. I'd turn on TRL, throw my backpack on the recliner, and plop down on our big comfy couch. It was such sweet relief to have the day be over. Learning is great, but high school was a prison. As far as I was concerned, the day's obligations were over. Dishes were in the sink and chicken breasts needed defrosting, but the day was done. I was off the clock.

At about five, Dad would storm in, hang his coat in a loud, territorial clamor, and I'd always jump up immediately to walk towards the kitchen.

"Dishes done yet?"
"I was just about to do them."
"Why can't you just do what I tell you to do?"
"They're just dishes. I wanted to sit down."
"Did you take the chicken out of the freezer?"
"I was just about to do that too."
"You don't do anything I tell you to do. How hard is it to do the dishes? So I don't have to do them when I come home from work?"
"I don't know. Why is it so important that I have them done?!? Goddd."
"Fine. Then I'll do them. Go back to sitting or something."
"What? Dad, you told me to do them. I will. I just don't want to right now. Why is this such a big deal?"
"I just want to get everything done now so I can relax later."

Then he'd march into the kitchen. His shoes would still be on, the dirt would still be under his fingernails, and he wouldn't even go to the bathroom. There I would stand, yelling about something irrelevant to make it all about me - poor little me - and I'd have the same feeling I got when I watched Martha unloading the dishwasher.

He looked so tired, so buckled down. To being an adult. One that works. Then waits in line at the DMV for a stupid little thing like a sticker. The day was on his face. It was draining. So I would do the same routine every day. I'd turn around and go back to the living room, pretend not to care, then put all my stuff that was laying around away. In no time, I'd force myself into redemption mode and vacuum, or Pledge things. While he cooked something delicious like pepper steak with hot sauce or stroganoff with really big, manly chunks of beef. Throughout the whole process, he'd stay in the kitchen. His wallet still in his back pocket. He wouldn't even bother taking off his work watch, emptying his pockets of change and bills, or putting his wallet on his dresser.

He cooked. All at once. Without a break, rest, or any attempt to sit down. Why? Because he's an adult. Adults don't cook food for sport or vacuum floors to earn points. Adults open their eyes and see tasks. Lists. Obligations and deadlines. They go to work, come home, do the work that has to be done at home, and with luck, catch some prime time. And when they come home and, with some luck, their bratty kids have done the dishes, they thank them profusely for growing up a little.

I'm 21, and I'm still a child. I still go home on winter breaks or weekends and loaf around like a freeloader. I'll walk in the door and walk straight for the fridge, grab a coke and a hunk of cheese, glimpse at the dishes in the sink, and dismiss them completely. The same way I dismiss cat poop on the ground knowing that if I say nothing, the first person to see it will clean it up. After years of knowing that my adult father puts dishes on the list of things he needs to get done before he can sit down, I still leave them to rot. And I go upstairs to do something really productive. Like talk online.

Because I had a long day. Classes, meetings, exams, papers, projects, my part-time job. You name it, it's got me feeling like I've earned the right to leave a mess. I can not look at the mess. I can forget about it for a while. I'm gonna sit down. Before I do one more thing that I'm supposed to do.

When you're a child, this is how you respond to the world. What needs to be done, so long as it is not urgent or reflective of reputation/rewards, can wait. What's the gain in doing the dishes? Getting anything done? If it's not totally necessary, it's not totally worth thinking about when I want to be lazy. Me first. Dishes later.

Dad comes home. I'm upstairs being a bum. He doesn't even yell. He goes straight to the sink. He does the dishes. He calls me down for dinner when it's ready.

After dinner, I do the dishes. It's our rule. You cook it, you don't clean it. Even in this arrangement, I suds the last utensil, turn off the faucet, and think I am amazing. I'm such a great kid. I do the dishes without being asked. I should get stickers and be an announcement in the newspaper.

Then Dad falls asleep on the couch watching Monk. I wonder why he didn't thank me for doing the dishes. And I realize why he doesn't. Months later while Martha unloads the dishwasher in her scrubs and worker shoes while I'm still walking around in underwear and a tee shirt.

He didn't thank me because I'm supposed to be an adult.
But I'm not.

And I'm not sure I ever will be.
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