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The Miami Herald
May 17, 1999 Monday, FINAL EDITION

All grown up (almost)

BYLINE: NATALIE P. MCNEAL, STAFF WRITER

Dear recent college graduates,

If your parents are like mine, they probably drilled this into your head: "You're not grown until you have a job and get your own house!"

Well, I've been out of college and working for more than five months. I have my own apartment and pay (most of) my bills. But I still don't feel like a full-fledged grown-up. And I'm not sure that I want to.

I like to think of myself as a "growing-up." Since becoming a working professional, I've learned that grown-ups plan vacations with their kids, buy houses and drive large sedans. Growing-ups go to happy hours, dream of travelling abroad and live with little furniture. Growing-ups are the straddlers of postcollege and prefamily life.

The growing-up zone is a unique place to reside. Some days, the back of your ears feel very moist. Other days, you feel ready for the rest home.

For example, I still miss my 2 p.m. nap between classes, and I believe that the work year should be divided into semesters. Since becoming a full-time employee, I have a self-imposed curfew. My college friends - a k a the nocturnal creatures - call at all times of night. They tease me when I give them my speech about my weary, work-driven body.

One time, I had dinner with some co-workers. Three women sat at a table, discussing a universal favorite pastime - shopping.

"Ann Taylor is my favorite store," says one. The other nods in agreement. But my eyes just widened. Isn't that the store with all the suits? With my boot-leg cut black pants and fitted shirts, my style is more "GAP clearance" than business executive.

Another time, co-workers spent an afternoon talking about good places to raise kids. My eyes glazed over. At this stage of my life kids is a four-letter word.

One day, a source on my beat called me "young lady." Immediately, a 12-year-old image of me in a frilly dress doing a curtsy filled my mind. I wanted to tell him I have my own apartment and I pay (most of) my bills - I'm grown!

But other times, I've felt extremely old.

For instance, after asking for directions one day, a man had the nerve to call me "ma'am." I was quite vexed. I felt as if I must have had work-burdened wrinkles on my skin for him to say such a thing. Friends told me it was Southern hospitality that made that man essentially call me a "grandmother." But I wasn't convinced. So the next day at work, I staged a silent rebellion.

I slipped on my sleek, black, go-go-esque boots, wrapped on my grey ultrasuede skirt and piled on my dark lipstick. A little edgy for the workplace, but that was the point. More than a few people noticed my look and asked questions. I told the truth. I was in Peter Pan mode: I won't grow up, I won't grow up! I've just turned 23, and I refuse to start wearing pants with elastic in the waist.

But my life as a growing-up can be exemplified most by my living conditions.

In my apartment (one bedroom, I can't afford more), I have no couch, my coffee table is an old footlocker, and my bed is a futon with a flattened mattress. I have to stomp my foot three times to get reception on my 13-inch television with the rabbit ears. But after more than four years of dormitories and roommates, living alone in a matchbox would seem like heaven. Most importantly, my name is on the lease, and I pay my bills. So, according to my family, I guess I'm grown - except when I ask for a little help on the phone bill - another trait of a growing-up.

###

Natalie P. McNeal graduated from Howard University in December and is a reporter at The News & Observer.

 

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