Coming of Age in the Age of Free Choice

Coming of age traditions serve as memorable milestones to look back upon and laugh (or cry) at. There’s nothing like commemorating a major milestone in your life with a memorable experience- with accompanying photo evidence for later shame.  I live for the story.  Funny embarrassing story that is.  I can only mainly speak for the teen into adulthood years, but since those are considerably the biggest learning and fuck up years, you’re bound to have hit some pretty epic milestones by now. Though the teen years may have been unkind in more ways than one. I now find myself, on the cusp of graduating and a milestone birthday, reminiscing on the years that got me here.

You may think of coming of age traditions as something your Mom or Dad did with his/her Mom or Dad that he/she hopes you’ll do with your children one day etc., etc. Maybe it’s even a great tradition you started with your childhood friends, think the concept of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but with way more regard for personal hygiene.  It can even be in the form of an internal personal goal you set for yourself each year.  For males and females these institutional right of passages can be wildly different, yet they share the same value.  Some coming of age rights of passages are unavoidable, they come with the natural process of life.  When you turn 21 in western culture, you go to the bar at 11:59 count down the seconds until you’re legal and then get trashed.  These are the unavoidable social norms we’re just expected to follow along with because that’s what everyone around us before us did.  Other right of passage rituals can be explained as are our “phases” like our parents liked to call them when they couldn’t understand our alarming out of character behavior.  Maybe when you turn 13 you get angsty, dye your hair, decide you want to play the electric guitar, and only wear band t-shirts. Anyone? No? Just me? Great.

While I can only speak to what it’s been like as a female, and feel free to agree or disagree with me, my experiences with coming of age traditions have been alarmingly normal and predictable now that I think back on it.  When I think milestones in my life and this is how I marked them and celebrated them it doesn’t seem special or unique at all.  Realizing that these are some of the right of passage traditions in our culture now makes me slightly embarrassed on what little impact they have had on my life.  Yes, remembering them has made me laugh and feel fortunate for the normalcy in my upbringing, but I also still cringe only in the way that an epic coming of age story can; so here it goes.

First time buying makeup
The first time I experienced makeup was in 7th grade with my Mom before I started middle school.  We went to our local mall to the makeup counter and I had my makeup done by a woman named Ooli.  I’m not entirely sure how sound of an idea it was to be getting a makeup application from a woman who couldn’t even realize that the word eyebrow(s) was plural- as in there should have been two of them. Also, there is something about being on display in the middle of the mall, eyes closed, having your makeup done by a stranger as people pass by and watch that just completely ruins the moment.  None the less, I was excited to not look like I was constantly “sick” or “tired” as people so politely refer to you when you’re not wearing any makeup.

What I relished at age 13 I curse now at 21. Damn this process that would consume anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes every morning for the rest of my life, curse my justification and addiction to spending $50 on a palate  of eyeshadow and fuck my now need for perfection and feeling of nakedness without it. For most females in western culture the general excitement of what it means to grow up is focused around looks. Wearing makeup, getting to wear high heels, dye your hair and continue altering the way you look every day for the rest of your life.  It seems ridiculous when I write it out and break it down, yet I am just as much of a sucker for this coming of age tradition turned daily ritual

Bra Shopping
I can’t speak for myself on this particular right of passage because I often have selective memory and have probably deeply repressed the humiliating experience that is bra shopping.  As a sales associate at a lingerie/sleepwear store geared towards young girls, I re-live this moment on a weekly basis.  Little girls get dragged in with their Mom’s, arms crossed in a powerful death grip to leave either in tears or pure joy of the promise of being the envy of every 5th grade girl. Don’t even get me started on those poor souls that come in with their fathers.  Most females today, like myself, will tell you that they were oh-so wrong and don’t know what they hype was all about. Metal wires stabbing you, an additional expense in your wardrobe and being in a general state of discomfort. Enough said. Stupid normal progression of life ritual.

First PG-13 Movie
As an adult, for a 5 foot tall girl every time you go to a PG-13 movie is like your first time, or so the cashier seems to think. My real first time I was allowed to get into a PG-13 movie it was Anchorman and it was alone with my Dad and when Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate took a trip to “Fantasy Land”, I wanted to curl up and die of embarrassment.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but this experience set the tone for every PG-13 and worse, R, movie I would then see with my parents up until this day.  I’m not sure what I was thinking in terms of both why I would think a PG-13 wouldn’t be slightly raunchy, since that is the appeal, and ultimately why the hell I thought it would be okay to go with my Dad.  Whenever Anchorman is on TV my Dad makes it a point to either text me or call me into the room to quote the very lines I turned red at 8 years ago.  Coming of age moment turned ritual? Unfortunately, yes.

 First Piercing
Staying with the father-daughter ritual theme, the next most obvious right of passage in a teenage girls life is defying her parents wishes and getting a piercing.  I pulled one of the old my Mom said absolutely not, so I did what any 16-year-old would have done- I went right to my Dad.  If someone was putting holes in his baby he was damn sure he going to be there to witness it.  He held my hand when I got pierced and pointed and laughed when it got snagged on my sweater and I cried.

Do I regret it? No. Am I now at age 21 slightly embarrassed to be wearing a hot pink rhinestone navel ring? Absolutely.  Now entering adulthood I fear the unsightly scars it is going to leave and if pregnancy is in the distant future; the forever stretched puncture wound (that no doubt said children will taunt me about- man, kids can be so cruel). It’s a mistake you can’t undo- talking about the piercing of course, not the children. The universe’s own personal form of punishment, you wanted it- you got it- now you have to keep it in forever or fear the physical consequences.  At least it’s hidden a good 9 months out of the year. I’m also a huge believer in the thought process of not regretting the petulant mistakes since at that time in your life it was exactly what you wanted.  For me it was complete control of my body by having absolutely no control over the piercers needle.  I know, it makes total sense. One thing can’t imagine being a boy in the age of Nsync begging his parents for an eyebrow ring.

 Driver’s License
Can you say freedom? That is of course freedom to be in by your Cinderella license curfew, freedom to go wherever your parents need you to go to run errands and freedom to be an adult and start paying for gas. Talk about a double sworded evil right of passage.

 Fake ID
Don’t lie, I know I wasn’t the only one.  This little piece of plastic always promised a good time but almost always ended in the stinging shame of being denied. This is one right of passage that I do truly regret and wish I could take back. Now being newly 21, it completely took away the excitement of actually being of legal age. Trying to rush growing up and my coming of age milestones actually ruined the experience of the actual event.  So illegal. This is one coming of age ritual that makes me so so very happy I am past this foolishness in my life.

As a teenager I wanted nothing more than to be grown up.  As my time in college comes to an end, I want nothing more than for it all to slow down.  Building up the excitement of these milestones and now having reached them has me feeling somewhat sentimental with only one more “first” to round out my young adult coming of age journey; graduation and securing a job.  This isn’t the end though, now I have way more serious real firsts to look forward to. The next milestone coming of age saga will be a fun ride through my 20’s to be at the ultimate coming of age period, my 30’s…because that isn’t terrifying enough just thinking about it.

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