“I’m never going to grow up,” Pete announced to his grandfather over hot dogs one warm summer day.
“And just how do you intend to accomplish that?”
“I’m just not going to grow up.”
“You really think it’s that simple, huh?”
“Listen, kid, if you’re ever going to get anything out of life, you need a plan. You can’t just say you’re not going to grow up and expect to be able to go through with it if you don’t have a plan.”
“Because they’re tricky. They sneak adulthood onto you when you’re not paying attention.”
Pete looked skeptical. Then he smiled and shook his head. “Not me! I’m too smart.”
“You think so?”
“I thought I was pretty smart, too. I thought if I just played all day long every day, then I wouldn’t have to grow up. Nobody could make me.”
“That’s what you think. But see, first they want you to get an after-school job. Now, that’s not so bad, right? It’s just a few hours a week and then you have some spending money. No harm in that, right?”
Pete shook his head.
“But then they want you to go to college – so you can learn lots and be really smart, or at least that’s what they tell you. But you have to pay for college. So all that hard-earned money from that part-time gig you had in high school goes to pay for that. But you think about all the college parties and the girls and you think you’ll have more fun than not, right?”
The boy wrinkled his nose. “Girls are gross.”
“Just wait. That’ll change. And that’s when the downfall begins.”
“Not me. I’m never going to like girls.”
“OK. Say you like boys. What’s a better place to experiment than college? Nothing serious. Just a little fooling around. You’re both exploring, then BAM! The next think you know you’re getting married.”
Pete jerked backwards. “To a boy?”
“It could happen.”
“Ew!” Pete burst into peals of laughter.
His grandfather waited until he was calm again before continuing. “So you get married. That’s not so bad. You’re basically living with your best friend. The two of you doing whatever you want. But in order to do what you want, you have to get some independence. And for that, you need money. And for that, you need a job. And THAT is where they get you.” He snatched his hands in front of Pete’s face, making the boy gasp and jump backwards in his seat. “Next thing you know they’ve got you signed up for health insurance so you can’t leave and still be able to see your doctor. Then they start putting your money into a 401k for you so hopefully, if you don’t die first, you can afford to leave your stupid job some day and actually enjoy your life for a little while before you die of old age or cancer or a broken hip or whatever.”
He looked over at Pete, who was now sitting silently, staring at him with widened eyes.
“So you enjoy playing with those toys of yours while you can. Because pretty soon you’ll be a grown up with responsibilities who’s only allowed to play at certain times on certain days and even most of those times end up getting consumed with work and a pile of responsibilities.
Pete burst into tears.
“James, what did you say to him?” Charlotte came out and scooped their grandson into her arms.
“Nothing. I was just explaining the facts of life to him.”
“He’s only six years old.”
“So? Don’t you think he deserves to be warned?”
“I think a child deserves to enjoy his childhood while he still can.”
“That’s just it. He thinks it’ll be like this forever. He has no idea how limited his time is.”
“What are you talking about?” Pete howled with dismay and Charlotte said, “Oh, never mind. I have to go fix whatever it is you did. Hush, now, baby. You’re fine. Everything’s all right. I won’t let big, mean Grandpa scare you anymore.”
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