I was never a child. Somehow, when I was very young, I did not get the message that children are charming and endearing. I got the message that children (or at least the child I used to resemble) were ridiculous. The adult smiles and laughter that most children correctly perceive as affectionate amusement, I saw as mocking and deriding. It was not anything that anyone did. My emotional translator was just too smart for its own good. As a result of my faulty interpretation of the adult reactions around me, I quickly learned to stifle childish impulses. Instead of experimenting with new things, saying what was on my mind, and acting my age, I pretty much just waited to grow up.
I absolutely hated being a teenager. Thinking back on the whole experience, I realize that it sucks to be an adolescent. I wonder how any of us gets through it. When I get to heaven, I really want to have a talk with God about puberty and the whole maturation process. I feel like there has to be an explanation. An almighty God could certainly have designed a more elegant, less traumatic way to transform children into adults. At any rate, I did everything I could during my junior high and high school years to try to avoid typical teenage life. I did not date. I did not rebel. I did not even hang out with a group of friends. I pretty much just waited to grow up.
As part of that “waiting to grow up” thing, I got married when I was 21 years old. I had a grown-up job. I had a husband. I lived in an apartment for which I paid the rent. My peers were going to clubs, taking trips to Cancun, and reveling in the freedom of being young, single, and adult. I was managing a budget, putting a husband through school, and falling asleep in front of the television. Heck, I spent my first New Year’s Eve after turning twenty-one bereft of all alcohol at the Disneyland party.
After seven years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted a divorce. I was now a “grown up.” It was quite disappointing to discover that the “waiting to grow up” strategy I employed when I decided to bow out of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood did not result in the “happily ever after” I thought it would. When my husband left me, I also learned something about trying to skip developmental steps. You can’t. As adamantly as I had said “no, thank you” to childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood during the appropriate chronological times in my life, I soon realized that the Universe was going to force me to experience these stages at some point or another.
In the long, sad, lonely months in the wake of my separation and divorce, I found I had to learn to play. I had to learn to play with abandon without fear of being ridiculous, the way a child plays. When I entered the dating world, I found I had to go through the thousands of little and big heartbreaks of embryonic attraction and love. I had to learn to live with the disappointments intrinsic to social situations without losing myself, as a teenager must learn that she can survive even those situations that seem catastrophic at the time. When I finally gained some confidence and began to enjoy life, I had to find a way to stay true to myself and to understand that other people won’t necessarily behave as I expect them to behave… just as young adults must learn how to discern their authentic place in the world.
I think I am still working on learning that last bit. I never did really experience the bold, busy, boisterous milieu of the young adult scene. To me, the word that best distills the young adult experience is “more.” In this phase of life, we are trying to be ourselves but also trying to figure out who “ourselves” are in the context of the world. Everything is magnified so that we can better examine it. The volume of life is higher. The saturation of color is brighter. The number of experiences per square inch explodes. The contrast of life is on “high.” I am still a more muted person than most people project in young adulthood. I am an old adult who is missing a misspent youth. I’m still trying to acquire one.
Recently, I went to Las Vegas. The main reason we decided to go to Las Vegas was because we wanted to see Rod Stewart in concert. Rod Stewart is an old adult who is still living a misspent youth. He is 77 years old and still presents himself as someone in the eye of the young adult hurricane.
The night of the concert, I adorned myself in my most “rocker chick” finery. I wore black jeans with a beaded graphite-colored vine running down the leg. I wore a rose gold sequin blouse, and I topped it all off with a somewhat distressed, studded jean jacket. I felt like I was really letting loose my inner wild child. Part of me felt hip, sexy, and edgy. The other part of me felt ridiculous. I decided to go with hip, sexy, and edgy. I locked “ridiculous” in the closet before Max and I set out to the show.
As we waited in the elevator lobby for our friends, A man at least 35 years younger than I walked by me and said, “You look lovely this evening, ma’am.” I looked around to see who he was talking to, realized it was me, and blurted out a quick “thank you.” Random strangers do not usually compliment my looks. It was kind of a rush. I even forgave him the dreaded “ma’am,” which might have been a buzzkill.
We had excellent seats at the concert. One of the perks of being an old young person is that one typically has more disposable income with which to buy expensive tickets. We were in row eleven, almost exactly center stage. Sir Rod gave a fantastic, supercharged show. He sang around 35-40 songs- belting, tossing his hair, dancing, and gyrating like a man at least 35 years younger. His affected youth was contagious. I felt my inner young adult breaking out of this elderly woman’s shell of a body. I sang. I tossed my hair. I don’t know that I did much gyrating, but I did dance. My, how I danced. I checked my pedometer soon after the concert started and checked it after the performance. I danced the equivalent of 1.8 miles of walking while occupying the small piece of real estate around my seat.
I felt powerful, free, and vibrant. I felt like I had life by the cajones. At the time we were watching the concert in Las Vegas, Hurricane Ian was raging past our home in Florida. The threat of the hurricane had obviously been on my mind during our trip, but the energy of the concert quelled my anxiety. Hurricane, what hurricane? I was at least as powerful as any natural disaster. Move over, Ian. The misspent youth of Terri LaBonte has arrived. I was my own little pudgy bundle of wind, rain, and energy. I was the hurricane!
The next day, of course, I was back to the calm. Once more, I was the placid, responsible, quiet, introverted, awkward person I was before my evening of misspent youth. I am sure my aging body can stand only so much misspent youth at a time. I would not have it any other way.
I guess I did have a misspent youth during my actual youth. It was misspent because I did not misspend it the way young adults do to find, develop, and accept themselves. I plodded along through my twenties, spending my youth being who people expected me to be- responsible, sober, and serious. I am not sorry for the life I have lived, but I do think I could have made more productive bad choices when I was younger. Something else I have learned about trying to skip developmental stages is that the stakes are typically higher when you go back and live those developmental stages at an older age. You do not have the same kind of safety nets around you when you are sixty as you did when you were sixteen.
That still does not mean one cannot misspend their youth at age 63. I am proof that there are benefits from slipping the leash and maturing backwards, even later in life!
Did you have a misspent youth? When did it occur? What was the best takeaway from that developmental stage for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spend your day well… whatever that means to you!