When do we make the transition from child to adult?

Ever wonder when it is we make the transition from free-spirited youth to responsible adult? My entire life I've been hearing "you're still too young," or "you've got the whole world in front of you," or, my personal favorite, "wait till you grow up." In grade school, teachers beleaguer us with boring anecdotes from their own childhoods (i.e., "when I was your age..."). In college, we pretend to be mature and self-assured, but in retrospect, we all know that no 19- or 20-year-old truly is. Even as a young professional, when you think that your youth has faded away with your newfound non-student status, your boss perpetually reminds you of how much time it will take before you become a meaningful fixture at the company. 

So when do we cease to be kids, sloughing off our carefree, sometimes devilish play in return for the jaded, hardened attitude rife in adults? I'm in my 20s, but I still feel like a child on the inside: energetic, passionate, sympathetic, sometimes whimsical. Close friends insist I have a core as soft as a child's. They ask to me cup my ears whenever a slew of expletives is about to be expelled, as if to shield me from evil. My parents don’t expect me to cook (only clean!). And when I stop and stare at the world around me, I am through and through a child: nothing delights me more than an ice-cream cone.

Thus I find myself in this awkward in-between. I’m certainly no adolescent, but neither am I a grownup. Whenever I sit across the table from a stern executive, I question whether he can remember the time he was in my shoes: a young professional just starting out, trying to find his way about, himself seated across from a stern executive, and pondering the very same thing racking my mind. If he did, if all adults could readily recall how they perceived adulthood when they were themselves minors, don’t you think this world would be flush with sympathy and compassion? Less of the cold, calculating behavior, and more of the happy-go-lucky ebullience—no? We would all be tender and empathetic, even vulnerable, like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s fabled petit prince.

When I was 12, I used to project how mature and important I’d feel at 15, but when I got to 15, I was disappointed to learn I felt totally unchanged. The same sensation rattled me at 18, then again at 21, and so on. I had anticipated a transformative milestone at each major age, but it never came. Sure, I sensed a maturation of intelligence, self-confidence, and sensibility. In fact, I am aware of it now more than ever, and it only grows with time. The mind indeed evolves, but the heart, it beats to the same rhythm.

Will true adulthood ever come? Will its onset coincide with marriage? The birth of my first child? Or the second, perhaps? Age 30? Or maybe 40? When I pose the question to my mother, she confesses she still feels like she’s 25. The mind freezes, but the body does not. It’s an unfathomable disconnect which likely never mends except in our fateful ends.

Le Petit Prince


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