Now that my oldest son, Ford, is almost 14 years old, he spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be an adult. I don’t remember thinking the same way when I was 14, but I’m sure my husband, Dustin, did. This is likely a lesson in birth order, society’s expectations of boys versus girls, or just a matter of me being nothing like Ford and Dustin.
In any case, I try my best to help Ford navigate the world of adults, and it has become clear to me, through him, what young adults need to know. Along the way, Ford has created several “lessons.”
Lesson One: Adults offer to pay, even when they want someone else to.
Adult 1: I’ll take the check.
Adult 2: No, I’m paying.
Adult 1: [clutching bill to chest] Oh, no you’re not. I’m paying tonight.
Adult 2: You paid for lunch 10 years ago. It’s my turn.
Adult 1: No, I will not let you.
Adult 2: I will feel terrible if you don’t.
Adult 1: [slowly releasing bill and inching it closer to the halfway point of the table] Well, if you insist.
Adult 2: And you can pay the tip.
Ford wonders, how many times does an adult need to refuse? How many times do they need to offer? For how long is the whole you-paid-last-time argument valid — weeks? Months? Years? No one is sure. And yet, everyone agrees — silently, of course — that paying the tip isn’t even close to a compromise. Here is Ford’s advice: Always come prepared to pay for everyone.
Lesson Two: Adults give no obvious clues about what they really want.
Adult 1: [carrying a large load of groceries into the house, because the goal is to get so many plastic bags hanging from your pinky finger that it losing feeling]
Adult 2: Let me help you with that.
Adult 1: No, no, no. I’ve got this. I don’t need help.
Adult 2: But I can just take a few.
Adult 1: [limping, groaning, sweating] No, I’m fine.
Adult 2: Well, okay then.
Adult 1: [inside house] I can’t believe they didn’t help me.
According to Ford, it would be helpful if adults at least gave subtle cues, such as a wink, to what they really mean or want: “No, I don’t need any help [wink, wink]. I’ll just carry these 50 bags on my pinky finger [wink, wink].” But adults don’t do this, and, therefore, young adults should always err on the side of helping.
Lesson Three: Adults will sacrifice a good option just to be the one who ordered the healthiest thing.
Adult 1: I’ll have the cheeseburger.
Adult 2: I’ll have a salad with grilled chicken.
Adult 1: [Regrets choice]
Adult 3: I’ll have a salad without chicken.
Adult 1 and 2: [pout]
Adult 4: I’ll have a salad without chicken or dressing.
Adult 1, 2 and 3: [look at their menus again]
Adult 5: Just give me the lettuce.
Adult 1, 2, 3, and 4 [in unison]: I’ll have just lettuce, too.
Ford thinks a restaurant is your one chance to order individually, to get exactly what you want. Adults should order what they wish to eat, not what makes them look best. But they don’t. So, young adults, never be the first to order.
Lesson Four: Adults don’t like to be wrong, unsafe, out-of-the-know.
Adult 1: [to her child] Go on out and play now, Jimmy.
Adult 2: [to her child] Before you go with Jane, you need to put on a helmet.
Adult 1: Oh, right. A helmet. Jimmy, get back here!
Adult 2: [buckling daughter’s helmet]
Adult 1: [buckling son’s helmet with one hand and getting out knee pads with the other]
Adult 2: I always make Jane where a helmet when she walks.
Adult 1: Yes, Jimmy wears a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads.
Adult 2: Sometimes I wrap her in bubble wrap.
Adult 1: Sometimes I don’t let him do anything at all.
According to Ford, having all the right information, especially when it comes to parenting, is important to adults. No one wants to be caught practicing 1980s-style safety. Which means, to be a good adult, you’ll need to read a lot of magazines and newspapers.
Lesson Five: Adults ask questions you shouldn’t answer, but then they say absolutely nothing when they want you to respond.
Adult 1: Do these pants make me look heavy?
(“Never, under any circumstances, answer that question truthfully.” — Ford)
Adult 1: [silence]
Adult 2: [chats about the weather, current events, the slimming pants Adult 1 is wearing]
Adult 1: [later that night] I can’t believe Adult 2 didn’t say anything about my new haircut.
According to Ford, young adults should just compliment adults on everything, all day, every day — especially their healthy food options and knowledge. If you can do that while carrying in the groceries and paying the pill, you’re golden.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.