I Won't Grow Up

Well, maybe just a little

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I decided at an early age that I would never grow up. Death, it seemed, would be preferable to turning out like the ber-grown-ups of my childhood: June and Ward Cleaver, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, and, most terrifying of all, my parents. Grown-upness seemed to be a sort of final destination, a dead-end state populated by a bunch of boring people whose primary obsessions were life insurance and Getting Ahead. Their only fun--if you could call it that--came in the form of nightly cocktails, followed--in our household--by bouts of screaming and accusations that made Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? look like dinner theater.

To assure that such a terrible fate would never befall me, I memorized 'I Won't Grow Up' and all the rest of the lyrics from Peter Pan by the time I was 6, became a beatnik at 12--dedicating myself to Poetry and Life--and at 19 hooked up with an artiste-cowboy who was a dead ringer for Bob Dylan and had a taste for mind-altering substances. Together we bummed around the globe, living in Volkswagen vans and liberating T-bone steaks from supermarkets as part of our mission to crush capitalist pigs everywhere.

For a while I really believed I could break free from my middle-class roots by becoming a batik artist, a craftsy lovechild who earned her bread (homemade, 107-grain) with her own hands. The plan worked brilliantly until lack of sales (and even barter) made it obvious that I had absolutely no talent. Before long I set our cabin on fire with my cauldron of hot wax and I was out of business.

It seemed that the universe was trying to tell me something. Like: grow up. I decided to give it a whirl, praying that there was some middle ground between stultification and irresponsibility, between June Cleaver and Squeaky Fromme.

Here's what I did, more or less in order:

  • Had a son, got indoor plumbing.
  • Held down a succession of real jobs, including publicist for an outpatient leper colony--an especially challenging position for a world-class hypochondriac.
  • Quit the colony and became a freelance writer, a move that would indicate a serious relapse until you factor in a new husband with a good job, a 401K, and practically no interest in illegal drugs.
  • Took on a mortgage (in progress).
This last feels like the nail in the coffin of what I used to think of as grown-uphood--the pi?ce de r?sistance that turns free spirits into Father and Mrs. Knows Best. And even though I no longer believe that you have to be holed up in a garret to hold on to your soul, I still expect the mortgage broker to call any second and say, 'Sorry, we've found you out. We know you're an impostor. We only give mortgages to real grown-ups.'

Barbara Graham is a contributor to numerous magazines, as well as the author of Women Who Run with the Poodles (Avon, 1994). To her shock the mortgage has been approved.

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