Suburban Turmoil: The graduate

Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 1:00am

Last week, my 18-year-old stepdaughter put on a white cap and gown, accepted a diploma and a handshake, and said goodbye to 13 years of public school.

Her graduation ceremony was the cherry on a gooey sundae of springtime celebrations that included parties, cash, special senior events at school, cash, congratulatory dinners, cash, and cash. It was fun while it lasted.

But now that sundae is melting, as we enter one of the most bittersweet seasons of child rearing: the interminable Summer Before College.

For parents, it is a time to come to terms with the end of our teenager’s childhood. We watch with nostalgic tears in our eyes as our grad lazes on the sofa, munching on chips and watching MTV. We heave sad sighs as she empties our refrigerator of its contents, and think of how much we’ll miss discovering that the crucial ingredient for our recipe was eaten in a 2 a.m., hormone-fueled raid the night before. We sit up bleary eyed late at night, waiting for our grad to come home from a party and wondering how we’ll possibly survive the many, many nights of restful sleep that will come once our child has left home.

Meanwhile, for our graduates, the Summer Before College is an endless three-month stretch of time that stands between them and total freedom. In the interim, they wish to remind us that they hold both a voter’s card and a high school diploma, thank you very much, and therefore deserve the full rights and privileges that come with being an adult.

Except for that bothersome “financial responsibility” part. We parents can keep that.

Realizing this flawed understanding of adulthood was occurring in my own home, I firmly suggested to my own grad that she get a job this summer to help offset some of her expenses.

“Why should I?” she asked. “I’ll have the rest of my life to work.”

Bless her heart.

I kept my mouth shut only because I remember being in her shoes once and operating in the very same manner. Of course, I went on to learn the hard way that real adulthood was very different from what I’d imagined at the tender age of 18. With that in mind I have a few words of advice for my stepdaughter, to help her discern the difference between becoming a grown up on paper and becoming one in real life.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

You’ll know you’re an adult when you have your own permanent residence and are paying all of your bills by yourself.

You’ll know you’re an adult when covering those bills sometimes means you eat Ramen Noodles for a week in order to make it to the next paycheck.

You’ll know you’re an adult when the word “hella” is no longer part of your vocabulary.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you realize the world really does keep turning after your heart gets broken.

You’ll know you’re an adult when 30 no longer seems ancient.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you clean a toilet for the first time.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you learn how good it feels to admit when you’re wrong, and apologize.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you discover that having children means a whole lot more than the death of your social life.

You’ll know you’re an adult when it occurs to you that most other adults really aren’t any smarter or better behaved than when they were teenagers.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you grasp that life isn’t fair.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you understand that your parents didn’t ground you because they were jealous of your rockstar lifestyle, and trying to keep you from having fun.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you can balance a checkbook.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you put up with a rude and verbally abusive boss because you really need the money.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you decide that while being a teenager was fun, you would never want to be one again.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you understand why we smirked so infuriatingly when you told us at 16 that there was no point in learning to cook, because you were going to be an actress and would have someone to do that for you.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you grasp that your loved ones won’t be around forever.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you realize you know a lot less about life than you’d thought.

You’ll know you’re an adult when you figure out that your parents really do love you more than anyone else ever will.

Of course, I’m certain my advice will be lost on any high school grad that happens to read it. These are realizations you have to actually live out to understand, and it takes some much longer to do this than others.

Still, I have an 18-year-old who is about to begin the transition. I’m excited about all she’s about to learn.

And I am also very, very afraid.

Read more of Lindsay’s columns at

39 Comments on this post:

By: Funditto on 5/28/09 at 7:42


By: noteverstill on 5/28/09 at 2:04

I had forgotten how much I used to say "hella." I wonder when I stopped?

By: mandyhornbuckle on 5/28/09 at 2:18

First of all, to: "You’ll know you’re an adult when you decide that while being a teenager was fun, you would never want to be one again." - AMEN.

I don't really think I'm an adult yet, though.

Though the first time I realized I could be an adult was when I realized that if I got pregnant, it would no longer be a crisis, and when I told my parents, they would cry because they were happy, not because they were sad.

And on that note... "You know you're an adult when your mom reminds you every single hour of every single minute of every single day that she wants wants wants a grandbaby now please now now now now now!"

She's not really that bad. But she has made herself quite clear.

You also know you're an adult when you drink so much you throw up, realize it really sucks, and REFUSE TO DO IT AGAIN!

You know you're an adult when you see "kids" wearing something and think "What the HECK are they wearing!? Why would anybody wear that??"

By: mandiegirl on 5/28/09 at 2:18

I'm almost 27 and I do a crappy job of balancing our checkbook.

Thank God for online banking! :)

By: Kylie on 5/28/09 at 2:36

I just turned 30 two days ago and I no longer feel that is ancient! :) And I loved my high school days but would not go back for a million dollars. Yesss, I am finally an adult!
My oldest is 3 and this post made me teary thinking of ever letting him go...

By: dancingintherainblog on 5/28/09 at 2:39

I love this post.

It made my heart smile.


By: blossomteacher on 5/28/09 at 2:43

You know you are an adult when you get sick, and you go home so mom can take care of you, and you get a lecture or "the look." Or the first time you have to entirely take care of someone else who is sick (hubby, dog, etc.)

You know you are an adult when you finally realize it is cheaper to drink at home. And when you realize just how many calories you are burning through, and decide to switch to iced tea entirely!

You know you are an adult the first time you tell a kid "Back when I was your age..." or have to explain some obsolete technology (rotary dial phones, cassette players, old school cable boxes).

You know you are an adult the first time you roast your own chicken and it comes out perfectly :)

You know you are an adult the first time you realize you are now responsible for scheduling your own oil changes, dentist visits, tune ups, etc.

And the first time you realize no one is going to make you eat more veggies, but that you definitely need to make yourself eat more.

And you know you are an adult the first time you sign a contract (mortgage, car loan) that is going to put you into major debt, and no one else is legally required to co-sign for are all on your own.

I'm 28, and a lot of these revelations have just finally hit me in the last year or two!

By: Erin B. on 5/28/09 at 3:02

I knew I was an adult when I started unloading the dishwasher because it wasn't going to get unloaded if I didn't do it.

By: Amy Sue Nathan on 5/28/09 at 3:17

Great advice -- although I think life experience means that feeling like an adult is different for everyone. For some it's living alone, for others it's buying a house or traveling alone or making a decision. I also know that my kids grew up a long time before they should have --- a long time before they would become adults. They are 17 and almost 14. Some lessons come too early...and for others some lessons come too late. All we can do is our best!

Amy Sue Nathan

By: mommylicious on 5/28/09 at 3:19

Oh wow...I am 32 and I remember hitting all of those "milestones" so vividly! My oldest son just finished his first year of high school and it has really hit me how close he is to being a graduate and a "legal adult" and I am so sad and so scared! I am definately making an effort to not take a single day with him for granted---while I still have him around the house! Here are a few more that I can remember....

You know you are an adult when you have to do all of your own laundry.

You know you are an adult when you have to buy all of your own clothes, shoes, and beauty products...and you realize how expensive your tastes were and decide you can come down a notch or 5 if it means saving that much money!

You know you are an adult the first time YOU cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner for your OWN family by YOURSELF!

You know you are an adult when your baby turns into a teenager.


By: LindsayFerrier on 5/28/09 at 3:31

You all are adding some GREAT ones. I'm nodding my head at so many of these- like realizing my teenage tastes were too expensive for my budget. Goodbye, Aveda. Hello, Pantene!

Getting sick and realizing there's no one to take care of you was a big one for me, too.

As for balancing a checkbook- notice I said "can balance a checkbook." CAN being the operative word. ;)

By: knewman4 on 5/28/09 at 3:33

Great column! I've been reading letters I wrote in my late teens and I honestly don't even recognize that person! I do think I prefer being an adult, but sometimes I miss the rollercoaster!

By: mckeesport71 on 5/28/09 at 5:47

Oh to be eighteen and know everything again! The wisdom of these words will only hit her later, unfortunately, when she's learned everything the hard way. :)

By: carrien on 5/28/09 at 5:48

Great list. Here are a few I would add.

You know you're an adult when you realize that clean up after dinner at a family gathering won't happen unless you help.

You know you're an adult when no one pats your head and says, "There, there, we'll just let you out of that speeding ticket/increased financing rate on your credit card/late fees on your utility bill because you were having a bad week." They expect you to pay up. (I was 17 when most of that happened.)

You know you are an adult when you are really really sick and you still have to get up and spend all day taking care of small children, because they are yours, and no one else will.

I'm so grateful I don't have to learn to be an adult again. As much as I value the lessons themselves. Some of them were painful to learn.


By: MeganAlice on 5/28/09 at 6:21

My mother's advice to me was memorialized in one of the "senior ads" in the yearbook. It had a picture of me, smiling innocently at the age of three, and next to the pic it said "Remember to 'Simmer down now' and that tattoos are permanent. Love, Mom & Dad." If anyone is a fan of late 90's Saturday Night Live, they'll get the backstory of "Simmer down na!"

But all this to say, I was embarrassed at the time because everyone else's senior ads had loving poems and fond childhood memories, and my senior ad seemed a little crazy in comparison. But now I love that funny memorialization of my mom's advice in 50 words or less. When things get too tough, I try and simmer down. And "tattoos are permanent" haunts me every time I get tempted to get a tramp stamp.

Your stepdaughter will feel the same way about your column several years from now. Way to go, young Ferrier!

Get I get a "Preach on, sister!" to the additions of drinking wine at home, or not at all, because that's the cheapest alternative, and when you realize that getting pregnant makes your parents cry with joy rather than cry because their daughter just became a teenage statistic. Hilarious, but true.


By: katrinahopes on 5/28/09 at 6:26

You'll know you're an adult when, after ten years of rolling your eyes at it, you actually seek out your mother's advice about something.

Great post, Lindsay!

Notes on a Napkin

By: katrinahopes on 5/28/09 at 6:26

Oops, forgot to leave the link!


By: Carenann on 5/28/09 at 6:44

Great post Lindsay and best wishes to your step-daughter. I don't know when I would say I realized that I'm officially "An Adult" but sometimes, even though I'm closing in on 40, it's difficult to believe.

I love to tell teens something my mom once told me that has proven helpful in my life. Perhaps you can pass this on to your step-daughter. It's quite simple and actually sounds kind of silly but my mom once told me, "Read everything." You'd be surprised how many people don't read signs, directions, just basic information, (and no, I don't just mean husbands who don't know how to work the microwave because they haven't read the manual.)

Oftentimes, people are surprised by what I know or can figure out but it's usually because I read a simple sign or directions that they too could have read if they had only been paying attention. I know it sounds silly but it's worked for me since I started reading, I always think of it as some of the best advice my mom gave me.

Thanks for your writing Lindsay, I really enjoy your blog and the various other places you write!

Caren (

By: hattahall on 5/28/09 at 8:14

What you can't say "hella" anymore? Dude!
Seriously, I have great memories of my summer between high school and college. Many a late night spent out without any real life worries and always a mom to feed me, give me pocket money, and wash my clothes. SO NICE!
I had my son while a sophomore in college and my daughter my first year of graduate school. So I had a lot of responsibility all at once and am glad my mom let me stay home and "vegetate" during that brief time in my life, because it has been non-stop ever since.

By: velocibadgergirl on 5/28/09 at 8:30

This is great :D (though I admit that I'm 28 and still can't balance a checkbook)

By: jennatjugglinglife on 5/28/09 at 10:48

You have some great advice and I know you're going for humor here, but it makes me a little nuts when it is assumed that kids that age will be lazy and thoughtless.

My 24- year old and 19-year olds were neither when they were that age. They worked (it wasn't even a question as to whether or not they would), they kept to a reasonable curfew and when they emptied the fridge with friends in a late-night feeding frenzy they cleaned the kitchen when they were done.

Interestingly enough they would both be the first to tell you that they were not adults until they were paying all their own bills. They weren't/aren't perfect, but they sure weren't spoiled.

Jenn @ Juggling Life

By: CeCeSays on 5/29/09 at 12:08

You also know you're an adult when you WANT to put on sunscreen. Beautifully written and a sweet - yet hella cool- reminder of just how much she is loved... and worried for. OK, point taken... hella is out.

By: joybells07 on 5/29/09 at 1:55

Very nice! Sentimental yet realistic--better than I can say about most email forwards on the subject! I am 24 and I think I'm about half-way through the milestones you listed... definitely not calling 30 ancient, but not so much to the checkbook balancing, either ;-)

By: Kelbel on 5/29/09 at 6:13

This post brought up so many memories...I remember very vividly that summer after graduating from high school and I thank God every day that I do not have to go back to that time in my life again! Bittersweet...yes...*hella* clueless...oh yeah. Your step-daughter is very lucky to have someone like you who can offer advice lovingly and knowingly, but also still gets it. Congrats to her and to you!

By: ryanandjoesmom on 5/29/09 at 7:15

What an awesome list. Haven't read through all the comments left, so if this is a repeat I apologize.
You know you're an adult when you clean the toilet because you know it needs cleaning and are so excited when it is done! This could go for vacuuming, dishes, grocery shopping, etc.
You know you're an adult when the smallest things make you happy!


By: An_Imperfect_Life on 5/29/09 at 7:51

You’ll know you’re an adult when you routinely give your kids the better blanket, the last piece of cake, or an extra hour of sleep -- and feel totally great about it.


By: Crazy Cat Lady on 5/29/09 at 9:05

Crazy Cat Lady
I'm 35 and definitely an adult, but there are some ways in which I'll always be the baby of the family.

I still call my mom to whine when I'm sick, because she always knows how to listen and sympathize. And when my husband and I come to visit, she always makes whatever dinner I want--and doesn't do that for my three older sisters. :-)

By: amandaraeanne on 5/29/09 at 9:43

You know you're an adult when balding men are attractive.

By: LindsayFerrier on 5/29/09 at 10:35


By: rubberbacon on 5/29/09 at 11:26

Congratulations! This is such an exciting time.

By: mmmyatt on 5/29/09 at 2:11

you'll know you're an adult when you actually WANT to take out the garbage!

By: rubberbacon on 5/29/09 at 7:06

Your an adult when you set your mind to get out of debt and focus every ion of your being on this task.

By: thebloggingmum on 5/30/09 at 12:49

Haha! Amusing article. I've learned this phrase since moving to the South, and that it doesn't really mean what it sounds like it means: "Bless her heart".

Made me giggle, because I've found myself actually using it on occasion. "She has absolutely no clue what she's doing, bless her heart." :)

By: jillydill on 5/30/09 at 7:21

You know you're a grown up when one of your favorite movies during your teen years celebrated it's 20th anniversary (a couple of years ago). Seriously, Dirty Dancing?


By: rachael1013 on 5/31/09 at 1:43

Oh my goodness. I can't imagine the summer before college. I still don't feel like an adult half the time.

By: LegallyBlonde on 5/31/09 at 1:03

wow, I remember being 18 and knowing everything and now being in the down hill side of my twenties (26) I realize i don't know it all now - I certainly KNEW NOTHING then! Best of luck to her in college and her future!

By: erinlooneybin on 6/1/09 at 6:11

I was just talking about being an adult with my husband and we both agreed that even with 2 kids, a house, a dog, a new car (and car payment) and all the responsibility that goes along with those things, we still don't feel like we're adults.

I frequently feel as though I am playing at this grown-up thing.

That was a beautiful post - and I agree, your daughter won't appreciate it until she's much older, but how lucky is she that it's all written down for her?

By: Lina27Calhoun on 9/18/11 at 12:55

Set your own life more easy get the personal loans and everything you require.

By: StarkNatasha31 on 11/11/11 at 11:51

Some time ago, I did need to buy a good car for my corporation but I did not earn enough money and could not purchase anything. Thank goodness my colleague proposed to take the personal loans at reliable creditors. So, I acted that and was satisfied with my collateral loan.