Packing My Own Lunch: A Quest for Independence
Adulting is hard. I wish I were just kidding.
Entering college was an undeniably difficult transition, the toughest part being the new level of independence and responsibility. On move in day, my mom took me down to my freshman dorm’s laundry room. She pointed out which buttons to press, how much detergent to put in, and when to use the hot and cold wash. That year, I was actually excited to do my own laundry. There were only a few times when I brought my laundry home because I wanted to prove to myself and my family that I could manage these simple tasks on my own. I was gradually becoming self-sufficient as I created my own schedule, started going to the library, and made decisions about the friends I made and the activities I involved myself in. I kept up my grades and fulfilled my requirements for the scholarships I was lucky to have received. I was coming into my own outside of my childhood household.
But few people warn you of the transition of moving back home. There exists this strange chasm between the gradual independence gained in college and the desired autonomy of adulthood. A degree of dependence, for me, has become unavoidable and I am constantly being reminded of how fortunate I am to be in such a position. It is oddly dispiriting, however, to watch as my carefully constructed independence is dismantled.
I’m a messy person. My room quickly becomes a scene of marginally organized chaos. At school, my mess would act as a reminder of my busy schedule and I would spend an hour or two cleaning up while watching Anjelah Johnson’s shows on Netflix. This became my productive relaxation time. I would end the day knowing that I had taken control and accomplished what I needed to continue to be a productive student.
At home, I leave my bed disheveled as I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I am spoiled and arrive home to a freshly made bed. I breathe a sigh of relief, but simultaneously wonder if I am capable of caring for myself at all anymore.
I may sound foolish or even obnoxious for even objecting to all that I am handed. Don’t get me wrong, my bed would remain unmade for days had I not a mother who so graciously cuts me some slack as I adjust to my day-to-day schedule. I would be eating cafeteria curly fries and funnel cake with the middle schoolers I work with on a nearly daily basis had I not a fridge full of food to eat. It is not that I do not appreciate these favors or even that I don’t need them during this transition. What bothers me is the possibility that I am unable to care for myself. What worries me is the idea that those four years of growing more able is nullified by this new venture.
I am constantly second guessing my abilities to function in this overwhelming new life of mine. My full-time job is less of an accomplishment in my head when I think of the personal connections that got me there. My lunch is all the less palatable when I remember my mom prepared it for me before work, even though I could happily live on the artful sandwiches she constructs. My morning coffee is diluted by the fact that I did not budget this week to splurge on the Dunkin Donuts brand but rather reached into the cabinet to retrieve the K-cups my parents purchased.
I wonder if I can do anything on my own. I wonder if I am capable. I wonder if I am doing anything by myself.
On the days when I pack my own lunch, I walk a little taller. Running my own errands between work and rehearsals may tire me, but at least I know I am trying to maintain some pride in my self-reliance.
If you told me three years ago that I would be quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance, I would have laughed in your face, but here goes: “Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is the infirmity of will.”
I plan to train my will, to strengthen it. I plan to find my independence once more in this unfamiliar territory. I will administer to my discontent. I will pack my own lunch.
Every other day during freshman year I would first take a 52 minute nap while my clothes went through the wash followed by a 23 minute internet surf while they dried. This is the balance I am looking for: responsibilities complemented by some indulgence in this crazy schedule I dove into head first. If anything, I will find solace in the fact that I got myself to work and I am carrying out my duties to my best ability.
Maybe one day I will discover the secret formula to autonomous contentment, but until then I’ll take it one bagged lunch at a time.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]