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Learning How to Make Cupcakes This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

In between chewing cupcakes baked for Julie’s 20th birthday, my hometown friends and I chitchat about people from high school who grew up too fast. Jostled in our disbelief over how many of our friends are married, engaged, pregnant, have kids or some combination, we vow to never act so hastily. Fresh out of high school and pregnant? Oh, what a nightmare, I think. I could never do that. It could never happen to me. I would be so unhappy if I were in their place, suddenly faced with responsibilities. Something hardwired in our brains, likely our understanding of the normal order of things, allows me to believe that I’m still so young and those adult things, marriage and having children, are distant. Those things will happen eventually when I’m ready for them to happen, not when they are ready to spontaneously interrupt the humble consistency I call my life.

I’ve never had a ring slipped around my finger or, better yet, been in love. While these experiences of the modern patriarch are considered essential to a fulfilled life, to an adult life, I do not panic that they’re not happening right now or even anytime soon. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about living is unpredictability. If I knew that tomorrow I would “get my act together” by holding a strict 9 to 5 cubicle job and owning a house with a white picket fence what reason would I have to wake up? Not knowing is half the fun. Recalling when I reached adulthood could never be as simple as pointing to a date on the calendar. Did I write down the day and time that I decided to ditch meat for tofu? No, that decision took time. I can’t write down future events either, like when I’ll meet the person to spend the rest of my life with. Adulthood, with all its mistakes, choices, and blind dives of faith, sneaks up on us.

What’s right for one person, like getting married as soon as the grad hats come off, may not be right for the next person. We’re not all on the same schedule, time-blocked from life till death. I can see that diversity in each person I know. The wide range of individual achievement I come across—from the savant who reads Charlotte’s Web at age two to the 92 year old who learns to write their own name—shows the way everyone goes at their own pace and for their own unique purpose. Everyone has something to give to this earth through his or her accomplishments. These gifts come in so many shapes and sizes so what might not seem to be a significant mark of adulthood, like spelling my own name or learning to make cupcakes, may be a huge triumph for another.
Still, if I could pin any tentative moment to the cusp of adulthood, I would pick “the moment I began to understand.” I’m reminded of the day I went to a cupcake shop and found a book displaying hundreds of different kinds of cupcakes. My wide eyes took in the myriad varieties. I never knew something as simple as a cupcake could contain diversity. And every kind seemed delectable in its own way—from the key lime cupcake to the mint chocolate chip.

See, I grew up when I learned to understand and accept diversity as part of my principles. Diversity became part of the way I viewed the world, taking away some of my awe, but also some of the negative “shock value” that came with sightings of strange people, places, and ideas. When I danced, crawled, and wiggled around a pool with a girl who has down syndrome, loving every minute listening to her squeaky laughter, I realized that I was a grown up because I understood that she was different than me (she could not read, write, or talk in a conventional way) and that was okay. Better than okay. The memory of her beauty reminds me to be thankful for understanding, for adulthood, but her memory alone cannot define adulthood. After raising money for a charity that builds wells in impoverished countries and feeling so happy for what I’d accomplished, but so sad for the numerous injustices left to conquer, I again realized that I was a grown up. I understood that our work towards a better community is never done. I understood that people might live in extreme wealth and extreme poverty simultaneously. After loaning my friend money so she could get by and make car payments, I felt so frustrated knowing a person could work so hard and receive so little. I grew then, too. When I began writing stories and felt sincere pride in my work, I believe I grew up a little bit, and this began before I can even remember. I cannot remember when I did not write. I think that’s possible—growing up and not remembering it.

I may not do typical grown up things. I do not wield a briefcase, fight with my spouse, make car payments, or drive my kids to soccer practice. Everyday I laugh, fart, and make weird faces, but none of this suggests that I am still merely a child. Even children learn and do grown up things each day. They make decisions to do what’s right like look out for their sibling or not give into peer pressure. My light and free-loving spirit is forever a child and my considerate, questioning heart forever an adult for everyday I also analyze, work, and stress. Fluxing between the two, I am in constant transition. One moment I’m an archetypical child and the next an adult. I assume whatever shape is needed of me and this adaptability demonstrates the sincere mark of an adult.

As a learned individual, someone with skills and a well-developed conscience, I can also safely say that I am an adult. I would widen that title though and say I’m an adult who will never stop growing up. No matter the way events unfold and no matter the way I grow up, happiness will always be achievable. But what about those standard experiences associated with adulthood? What if I never walk down the aisle or rock my own child in my arms? What if these things occur past that vague, trivial date that seems regular for a woman like me? Do I ever really, fully grow up?

Choosing to never get married or to never bear a child are not shameful choices, but are, in fact, noble because they’re different from what society prescribes for us. The norm may frown upon them, but so long as the person who chooses to pursue that lifestyle is happy, then they’re still a fully functional adult, right? While I may never get married, I can still experience the marriage of love and sacrifice in my close relationships. While I may never undergo labor, I can still provide the ones I love with the maternal support they need. Not all mothers care for their own children. Whatever decision I come to, I believe the actions we make every moment of everyday of our lives prove overwhelmingly profound. I can make an itty-bitty action, like choosing pink lemonade cupcakes instead of red velvet, or make a substantial lifestyle change. Each would alter the way events unfold.

If tomorrow I decide to drive to Los Angeles and become a starving actress, then I could and I would be standing in line for auditions under the hot California sun. With growth, I’ve gained this ability to do what I want, change what I want to do, and reroute. The elusiveness of my personal liberty still baffles me. I suppose that’s what makes growing up scary at times. Acknowledging our own faculty and choosing how to channel that faculty can be difficult. Which brings me back to the idea of understanding: Understanding the consequences of choices and coming to a decision based on knowledge—that’s the mark of an adult.

Adulthood, like any “hood” or community, comes with a lot of decisions. I can make decisions that enrich my community and myself. That faculty, that word “can,” gives me the motivation to embrace each day as an opportunity. Yes, I’m scared of growing up. I’m scared of gaining an understanding of all the good and bad in the world. But, my understanding earns me the ability to turn the world—to speak out, speak up, and revolutionize. I’m learning to have cupcakes everyday, and by that I mean to celebrate each day. This learning makes me more able to do right. I wake up each morning, stretch my limbs to the wide sky, and after a deep breath think, “You know what? I’m going to do a little growing up today.”





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