Now We Are Twenty-One

Established in 1995.

In which Christopher Robin contemplates his future and Pooh, being a bear of very little brain, drains several smackerels of beer and wakes up wrapped around a toilet.

I am not sure where it says you have to celebrate your 21st birthday in a bar. But it seems like an age-old rite of passage. Having a legal drink on your 21st birthday is expected if only because you can.

I am not sure where it says you have to be an adult when you turn 21 either. But that also seems like an unwritten rule. Probably one written by impatient parents.

Personally, I don’t even remember turning 21. And not because I surrendered to a night of legal drinking. The summer I turned 21 I was between school semesters and had moved to a small town in California with my parents where I didn’t really know anybody.

If I went out and did anything, I don’t remember. If I had a beer, I don’t remember. If I had birthday cake, I don’t remember. About all I reliably remember was that I was 21 at the time.

Clearly it was not a momentous birthday, although a month later when I returned to school I made up for it. I was, after all, a newly minted 21-year-old college student of very little brain.

But I do remember around that time wondering if because I was now 21, I was supposed to be an adult. I certainly didn’t feel like an adult. Or act like one, even though I had proudly mastered the directions on a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

When I turned 21 I was still under my parent’s wing but didn’t want to admit it. For most of the year I was on my own away from home responsibly negotiating the rigors of a large University. But occasionally I came home with my laundry and drove around in my parent’s car.

I also knew it would end soon. Before long I would be finished with school and have to fend for myself. And I really had no idea what that entailed other than trepidation.

It was a time in my life when things like bills, insurance, cars, rents, mortgages, taxes, marriage, kids, jobs, the pursuit of happiness, and maybe even golf started to peak from the shadows of the abstract.

I wasn’t worried about becoming an adult and leaving the nest. I was worried about exactly how that was going to come about. And when.

As those of us who have survived well beyond 21 know, becoming an adult somehow just happens. Maybe not at 21. Maybe not at 25. Maybe even not at 30. But adult responsibility has a way of chasing us down even when we are not actively choosing it as a path we wish to follow.

And before we know it we are not only responsible for ourselves, but we are responsible for our own 21-year-olds too.

And the mystifying part: we still wonder if we will ever become adults.

My son turned 21 last week. We celebrated at a casual club in New York City before he started school. We had dinner and listened to really good music. He ordered a beer. I am not sure he even wanted one, but as I said, a legal drink on your 21st birthday is expected, even when you don’t get the satisfaction of being carded.

We toasted the milestone birthday that is 21.

A day later his room at home was familiarly empty and he was back in school responsibly mastering laundry, alarm clocks, and, I suppose, ramen noodles in a microwave.

I don’t worry about his future because I know that it will unfold around him, both with his active involvement and without. But I am sure he worries about it. Because worrying is what starts to fully develop when you turn 21.

Maybe that is why drinking is legal.

OK. I was wrong. I worry about his future too. It must be all that adult responsibility that chased me down over the years. Regardless of his age, I am still his father and I want the best for him. Life can be hard, even when you prepare for it. And like all parents, I want my kids to feel secure and happy when they leave me behind.

If they leave me behind.

I sometimes I worry about that too.

It seems like I should have some advice for my son now that he is 21. Something other than “please return my phone calls”.

But he is now at a point in his life where he clearly wants to be on his own and if he needs help he will ask for it.

I think he is becoming an adult.