Reluctant Townie: The day you descend into adulthood
As a child (and as a man-child well into my late 20s), I would often speculate as to when the magical transition might occur that would make me feel like a grown-up. Would my descent into adulthood be gradual and visible to the naked eye? Or would I just wake up one day to find myself with working adult kung-fu grip and matching business socks?
Of course, when you're a kid — and even well into your late 20s — you subconsciously assume that you'll never really get old. You convince yourself that this world makes exceptions, or that maybe you possess the sheer force of will to dispel the effects of aging.
Well, I now know, after decades of wondering, that the transition into adulthood happens abruptly, violently and at the precise moment you pay a teenager to baby-sit your child.
In that split second after you hand off an awkwardly folded stack of bills, freshly withdrawn from the ATM, you will look around and realize that, yes, without a doubt, and quite unfortunately, you are the old person in this equation. There are no grown-ups waiting in the wings to make sure you're doing it right — you are the parental guidance that has been suggested.
(Quick poll: What is the correct way to hand off money to a teenager for services rendered? Balled up in a casual handshake like you're completing a drug transaction? Or fanned out like you're presenting a check from Publishers Clearing House?)
The moment I paid this young girl for watching my daughter I had a revelation — I was paying someone's kid to watch my kid. I was now, in fact, one of THEM. The dreaded old folks. The parents who just don't understand.
How could this have happened to me?
In the moment, I tried to make a joke to the baby sitter to deflate the existential anguish I felt rolling through me. When explaining how to use the DVD player to access Hulu and Netflix, I cut myself short, noting "you young people don't need explaining, you were probably born holding a DVD remote," partly hoping she would laugh and say something like "You young people? Oh, come on, you're one of us. In fact, I'm surprised you even have a kid so young. How old are you? Twenty-four or something?"
But instead, she only stared at me, and nodded in a way that said yes, you are correct, you old fuddy-duddy, I was raised on technology. I have a Twitter, an Instagram, a Vine, a Snapchat and a Klout score on the rise. Go enjoy your old-people party with wine and cheese and board games or whatever you do to distract yourself from the encroaching, inevitable icy hand of Death. I will be over here, enjoying my youth.
On the way to dinner, my wife — who turned 30 last month (if I go missing later today and am never heard from again, rest assured it was because I just divulged her age) — did not lessen my struggle in any great manner. As I poured myself sadly into the driver's seat, she reviewed my outfit.
"You look like a dad."
"I mean, you look like you could be someone's dad."
"Not in a bad way."
"Well, in a literal sense, I AM someone's dad. So I look correctly dressed for my situation."
"Yeah, that's what I'm saying."
"You picked out these clothes, let me remind you."
"You would not have looked any less like a dad in cargo shorts and New Balance tennis shoes."
"These khakis aren't even broken in. I'm going to get a rash."
At dinner, we met with other married couples — and a few singles to spice up conversation with tales of Tinder trysts and romantic rejection — some of whom were lamenting the end of their summer vacation as high school teachers. A $50 bottle of Cabernet sat on the table, among the shared bruschetta course. There were, all around me, clear signs that I had passed through the veil, out of my youth, and would never return.
How did I not see it coming?
When we got home, the baby sitter was waiting for us with wide, nervous eyes. She had tried to explain the concept of the Tooth Fairy to my kid and somehow managed to scare the living daylights out of her in the process. This, I suppose, is what happens when you let children watch children. Not a big deal (as a child, I spent a year in constant fear of squirrels for no particularly good reason); it could have been worse — my kid could have burnt off her eyebrows playing with the stove or something.
In the weeks since, my daughter's fear of the Tooth Fairy has remained unabated. This has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. Boogeymen can be useful tools in obtaining compliance from a toddler.
"It's time for bed."
"Nooo! Don't turn out the lights! The Teef Fairy will come and take my teef while I'm sleeping!"
"That's not how the Tooth Fairy works."
"It can't have my teef! I need dem to eat!"
My wife broke the news to her that the Tooth Fairy is just a story mommies and daddies (and the occasional baby sitter) tell children to make childhood a little more magical. The irony is that my daughter is too young to believe her. So she will continue to live in fear. It seems that no matter what the age, something will always be lurking just out of sight.
Tooth Fairy snatching your teeth in the night. Old Man Time stealing years when you aren't paying attention. It's all part of the same circle of life.
In this case, maybe parents just do understand.
Ryan Jackson's knee hurts — must be a storm a-comin' — and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.