Oh, Grow Up!

I’ve often mentioned my dear friend Candy — she’s the born-again Christian, happily-married, home-schooling mother of five I’ve known for a bit over a decade or so. She’s far from a Puritan, however — witness the little joke she sent me last Valentine’s Day.

Well, last night she sent me the news about that Portland, Maine’s school that is offering contraception and birth control to girls as young as 11 — without the parents’ knowledge, let alone consent. Her first comment (as a Masshole turned Maineiac) was “I’m so glad I homeschool.”

I had the TV on in the background, and I’d neglected to switch off Fox News before Bill O’Reilly started. He, too, is all over this story. He’s convinced that this is the latest battle for the “SPs” (and that means, I think, the “secular progressives”) in their fight to destroy the traditional family — a theme he’s using to flog his latest book.

I’m a big believer in certain aphorisms — they aren’t always correct for every situation, but as a general rule they’re pretty safe bets. And one of my favorites is “never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Or greed. Or laziness. Or any of a wide assortment of other human foibles.

This move in Maine combined with a bunch of other events I’ve noted in recent years and pulled into a single cohesive idea — a “grand unified theory,” as it were — that I think ties it all together:

Far too many people — largely baby boomers — are stuck at a permanent adolescence.

They don’t want to be grownups. They want all the rights and privileges of adulthood, but shy away at some of the attendant responsibilities and burdens that come hand-in-hand with them.

They want to be parents, but don’t want to deal with the harder, more challenging, more difficult aspects of parenthood. They don’t want to deal with their children’s developing sexuality, so they try to get someone else to handle that part. A normal adolescent would try to foist the burden on their parents, but that doesn’t work here — so they turn to the government, the “nanny state,” to do the dirty work.

They want their own sexual freedom, but they don’t want to live with the likely consequences (children, disease, social stigma, etc.) So they push for abortion on demand, massive public funding for STDs, try to push the boundaries of what is “socially acceptable,” and so on.

This is compounded by the explosion of college education in the 1960’s. Among all the other effects, it gave a lot of people who were decidedly lacking in maturity enough of an intellectual veneer to construct elaborate excuses to rationalize their own shirking of responsibility.

Abortion is not something shameful, an admission of a private failing in taking responsibility for oneself — it is a right and a “choice” to be celebrated and protected.

Having children you can’t support on your own is not your fault, it’s society’s fault — and society’s responsibility to make sure they’re adequately supported and raised.

Taking care of your own health and well-being is too burdensome. We want miracle pills and quick fixes, and we want someone else to pay for them. So “health care” becomes a right — especially when it’s redefined to mean “health care where someone else picks up at least a part of the cost.”

Sexual license among minors fits in to this theme, too — it’s an expression of adolescence. Teenagers believe that they should be able to fool around all they like, and these overgrown adolescents playing at being parents don’t want to feel like hypocrites by denying their children what they believe they themselves were entitled to.

The SCHIP bill that President Bush vetoed also ties in here. Parents don’t want to have to make the hard choices when it comes to supporting their families, so they want Mommy and Daddy to come in and fix things.

But, as a society, we don’t have a Mommy and Daddy. Instead, we have the government — and the government does, largely, whatever enough of the people demand it do. If enough of the people demand that the government take on the responsibilities they don’t feel like assuming, then it will do so as best it can.

This was perfectly captured by John Edwards in a recent debate just one town away from me. As quoted by Jeff Jacobi, the Boston Globe’s “house conservative:”

Today, on education as on so much else, the Democrats sing from a different hymnal. When the party’s presidential candidates debated at Dartmouth College recently, they were asked about a controversial incident in Lexington, Mass., where a second-grade teacher, to the dismay of several parents, had read her young students a story celebrating same-sex marriage. Were the candidates “comfortable” with that?

“Yes, absolutely,” former senator John Edwards promptly replied. “I want my children . . . to be exposed to all the information . . . even in second grade . . . because I don’t want to impose my view. Nobody made me God. I don’t get to decide on behalf of my family or my children. . . . I don’t get to impose on them what it is that I believe is right.” None of the other candidates disagreed, even though most of them say they oppose same-sex marriage.

I think that, chronologically, I’m in the “sweet spot” to see this. Next week I’ll turn 40 — and I have chosen to not have children. I swathed that choice in “responsibility” and attributed it to my own medical history — I have a host of genetically-linked ailments, and don’t want to afflict them on a child — but I have to admit that there is a strong element of fear there. I have a fairly decent grasp of the responsibilities involved in having children, and it scares me.

But I’m also at the point where my peers are becoming not just parents, but grandparents. My best friend has no biological children (his first wife was terminally immature, his wife now came with her own kids), but there’s a charming little boy who is, technically, his step-grandson. And at least one of my high school classmates had a child before graduation, a child that now would be in their early 20’s and certainly could be a parent themselves. It’s slightly unnerving.

It all boils down to freedom, and once again I’m going back to David Gerrold, who gave the absolute best definition of freedom I’ve ever encountered: “Freedom is the right to be responsible for one’s actions.” For good or ill, if you don’t own your deeds and their consequences, you’re not free. If you can’t take the blame, you can’t take the glory. Success tastes hollow unless it comes with the knowledge that you risked failure.

That is the ultimate culmination of the perpetual adolescents — a life of rewards and benefits and “rights” that come without risk, without effort, and — ultimately — without meaning.

I have had many successes and many failures in my life. And on both sides, the ones that mean the most — both to me personally, and as substantial effect of my life — are the ones that I earned. Yes, on occasion circumstances and fate have conspired to give me rewards I didn’t deserve and setbacks that I could not possibly have avoided (certain physical health issues come to mind), but those I have chosen to simply deal with and move on.

For god’s sake, people, you’re adults now. Act like it.

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