Did you ever notice, when you were a kid, that a lot of times when you were little, your parents would ask you to make “adult decisions”? (Or big girl/boy decisions, or grown-up decisions, any variation thereof.) And did you ever notice that those “adult decisions” basically were not very adult-feeling at all, they were still you doing what they told you to do, or what they wanted you to do, or what they expected you to do?
Specifically, I remember several times when I didn’t want to clean my room. (For the record, I’ve never wanted to clean my room. Notice how some of my posts go all over the place? My mind is like that, ergo my room/workspace is like that.) And when I didn’t want to do it, my mom would tell me “come on Senna, be a big girl.” Being a big girl had nothing to do with it. Standing up against her and telling her that I knew where everything was in that “mess” probably would have been the more “big girl” decision. But I’d do it. I’d clean my room, up until the point I got distracted with some object, and I’d have to be reminded again. But I’d do it.
I’ve realized my life has been like that a lot.
My old school district was huge. It was a slew of elementary schools, three middle schools, one junior high, and one senior high miles away from the junior high. Where I lived, I went to one elementary school that was right next to one of the middle schools. But, somehow or another, because of where I lived, I was “districted,” as they called it, to go to another, full of people I didn’t know. But it was okay. I was going to go with a lot of my friends, because they were also districted to go there.
Except not. The parents fought the schools, saying they shouldn’t have to send their kids to a school miles and miles away because there was another middle school sitting right next to the elementary school. And the parents went back and forth with the district until finally, the head of the district went “Fine. Know what? You can choose where you want your kids to go.”
A lot of my friends went to the closer middle school. My dad wanted me to make the call where I went, but he wanted me to make the “grown-up choice” of taking the challenge and going to the one farther away. At this point, I was in fifth grade, and I was one of those kids who if I didn’t get straight As, I’d be seen as a huge disappointment. I didn’t get into the gifted program, which made my father very angry. I knew how things worked by now, and I knew if I chose to go where my friends went, where I would probably be happier, I would never hear the end of it. So I went to the one farther away. Where everyone knew everyone else except me. I was lucky enough to find a friend that I went to pre-school with there, and tack myself onto her friend group. And because I was the weirdo, the outsider, the girl with no fashion sense and no makeup, I was bullied. Not by the boys, oh no, the boys and I got along fine. The girls became demons, spreading rumors, laughing at me behind my back, pretending they were friends with me.
I begged my dad to pull me out. He didn’t listen until my grades started slipping because I was skipping class to hide in the library.
I was put into cyber school. Two kids we knew around the Philly area went to a cyber school, and they loved it. They were a latino family, and in school, the boys were discriminated against by even the teacher, so they were inherently distrustful of anyone with white skin. They didn’t get along well with my sister and I, not until they got into cyber school and realized that people weren’t inherently bad. So we went to cyber school, where, admittedly, I made one of the best friends I could ever hope for.
We went to a program called Art Outreach provided through the school, where we would go to a building owned by the school and learn things for free – guitar, piano, painting, acting, singing. My sister made a friend there, and my father spoke with her mother; her oldest son went to a school called Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, a high school that you had to audition to get into, but was well worth it if you made it.
At the end of my 8th grade year, I lobbied to go back to my home district. I didn’t want to graduate behind a computer screen, I wanted to graduate with my old friends. I was told no, I couldn’t, I would be going to Lincoln Park. “That’s not fair!” I remember yelling, “It’s my life! Not yours!” So my father made a deal with me. I could either stay in Cyber School for the rest of high school, or I could try Lincoln Park for a year, and if I hated it, I could go back to my district. “I want you to think about what the adult decision is, here,” he said.
This wasn’t an adult decision. The last time I’d been asked to make an “adult decision” about my schooling, I’d fucked myself over, and he knew it. But he also knew I hated sitting at home all day, taking classes online that I had no motivation to do because I could do them “at my own pace.” This wasn’t an adult decision, it was manipulation.
I tried out for and got into Lincoln Park.
Which, in the end, was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. As far as what grade you were in, everyone was seen as an equal for the most part. (Unless you were part of the new 8th grade program.) Upperclassmen would help underclassmen find classes and teachers. There were no friendship boundaries between age groups, and most majors had some kind of link between them; Media filmed Theater and Dance, Literary Arts worked closely with Media, Music worked with Musical Theater. I made so many friends that I hope to keep for a long time, both with students and teachers alike.
There came the choice, of course, of college.
I wanted to write books. I knew I didn’t need a degree to do that. But it was another “adult decision” I had to make. So I looked for majors, week in week out, it was always something new. Fashion design, culinary arts, communication, psychology, law. Never English. English wasn’t a good enough degree, not for my family. They were concerned I’d end up with no job.
In the end, I went for English, promising I’d think about dual majoring in communication or business in my second year.
All of these “adult decisions” were ones made for me, ones made because I felt I had to.
I finally made a real adult decision within the past week. I quit college.
Part of it was because of money. College is damn expensive, and I was paying for it with my own money and educational bonds. But part of it was that college was doing really, really bad things for my mental health. It got to the point where I would lay awake in bed and think, you know, I would honestly rather be dead than deal with all this. And I didn’t know how to deal with that at first; you can’t really just tell someone that. You’re dramatic, you’re exaggerating, you’re weak. Or you need to be medicated. But I couldn’t just quit, I’d let my father down.
Except, what made his expectations of me more important than my mental health?
All the “adult decisions” I’d made were just things I’d done to keep someone other than myself happy. But that wasn’t very grown-up at all. Being an adult means taking responsibility for yourself, your needs, your actions. And your happiness.
And that’s what I think is the most important thing about being an adult.