It's hard to give a definitive answer. I'd say having kids was a major step. When new parents we know talk about staying up all night with babies, it makes me feel like we've learned and been through a lot, and kind of come full circle.
But I guess I would have to say I really felt like a grown-up when I bought my first house. In college I lived in dorms, then rented apartments. My wife and I made the decision to buy our own home pretty soon after we were married. It was something we both wanted, so we just went for it. I'm a pretty handy person, so it wasn't the upkeep on a house that scared me. It was looking at the number — just the sheer amount of what it cost. I remember thinking, "Man, that's a lot of zeroes."
I was kind of wild in my younger days. I never really experienced caring for kids until I had some of my own. I'd spent time with friends who had kids and played with their kids a little. But until my son was born, I'd never even changed a diaper. My parents didn't really have any parenting advice. They just told me, "Follow your heart in all your decisions."
Then Riley was born. That first night, when we brought him home from the hospital and no longer had help — no nurses, just us — it really hit me. "This is my responsibility. It's not about me anymore." I remember feeling the instinct of wanting to keep him from harm, of going to his crib to check on him, just to make sure he was breathing. Nobody can prepare you for that. It was a big change. And it definitely made me feel like a grown-up.
The first thing that popped into my mind was the time my family dropped my older sister off at college. We took her to Boston University, and I remember we were saying good-bye, getting ready to leave her at her dorm, and I went up to her and kissed her on the cheek. She was 18 and I was 16, but I remember thinking at the time, Wow, now I'm a grown-up. No more sibling rivalry.
But there was another time: Later, when I was in college, I went to visit a friend who was attending Vassar. A woman in her house made dinner that night: tempeh lasagna. It was terrible. I hated it. But I remember smiling and chewing and complimenting her on how delicious it was. I thought, "This is what it means to be a grown-up. Eating something you think is disgusting, and pretending it's good."
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