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Business Casual: The Grownups’ Table

I’m not quite sure when I realized I was officially an adult – a grownup, a responsible person expected to behave appropriately, no matter how tedious that might be, and fairly comfortable with that charge.

It certainly wasn’t on my 21st birthday, when I had assumed I’d be issued a leather-bound copy of The Grownups Playbook to read while I was sipping my first legal beer. It didn’t happen. Not that day or the next.

Subsequently, though, I graduated from college, found work, got married, had a child, acquired a mortgage, made dental appointments, scheduled oil changes, took pets to be vaccinated, chaperoned school field trips and admonished my offspring that money didn’t grow on trees.

All quite responsible, so I reasoned that I had become an adult, perhaps by default, even though I couldn’t pinpoint the moment it took effect.

When I was very young, I equated being grown up with a license to do whatever I wanted, and as I recall, my wants were fairly simple. I focused on three things: When I grew up I would have no set bedtime and stay up as late as I wanted; I would have a house big enough to take in all the dogs and cats in the world that needed a home; and I would eat dessert instead of vegetables.

So all these many years later, I have settled for one out of three. I do stay up as late as I want – and pay the price when the alarm goes off the next morning. I’ve pared my pet-rescue number down to two aging cats, and I capitulated on the vegetable thing. Turns out I like them and eat them as often as I can – especially just-off-the-vine tomatoes in the summertime and fried okra whenever it’s available – even though I enjoy knowing that I don’t actually have to.

Like most grownups, I have come to understand that being an adult is overrated. It’s not all new kittens and chocolate cake for breakfast. When a tire goes flat, guess who gets to deal with it? Change it or call someone who can. No hot water? Your problem. There’s no new-water-heater guardian angel on standby, ready to deliver. Call the plumber or take cold showers; just don’t complain.

The same you-take-care-of-it procedure applies to balky computers, unresponsive customer-service representatives, potholes, wasps’ nests, misdelivered packages, telemarketers, odd scrinching noises coming from the attic and the IRS.

You do not have the luxury of waiting for someone else to fix things, right wrongs and take responsibility. The ball is pretty much in your court – for things that matter a little bit, like taking out the garbage, and things that matter a lot, like leaving the world a better place than you found it.

That better-world one is tricky.

The final few weeks of 2015 and the early days of the new year have been fraught with violence and sadness and rancor – here and throughout the world. Senseless shootings, deaths and a presidential race that has taken a particularly ugly turn.

What to do? Where to start? For openers, maybe we could ask the supposedly grownup leaders who sought and attained public office and other positions of prominence to start acting like adults. Less grandstanding, no more posturing. More steak, not so much sizzle. Solutions, not diatribes. Think before you tweet. Use the authority you have to try and make a positive difference.

The rest of us could help by concentrating on the things that matter. Figure out what’s important and what isn’t, and deal with it accordingly.

We could all stand to look a little bit beyond our personal-comfort bubbles. Here’s one small example: A neighbor of mine used our community Facebook page to let the rest of us know, just before the holidays, about a family she and her husband were helping get resettled after a rough time. She wondered if any of us might want to make a contribution of money or clothing. As it turned out, a lot of us did.

It didn’t save the world, but it seemed like a small responsible-adult thing to do while we were trying to figure out the rest.

Meanwhile, I haven’t given up on my copy of The Grownups Playbook. I am sure it will arrive any day now.

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