Dear wishing-they-would-grow-up readers,
I realize the story I’m about to tell might seem like an illustration in search of a point. But being the Indiana Jones-like risk taker I am, here it is.
When I was 12, my dad graciously offered to take me and a friend to the state fair. If you were a 12-year-old in Jackson, Mississippi where I grew up, the state fair was a big deal. It was always in October. The nights were nippy, carnival sounds filled the air, and you couldn’t escape the aromas of sawdust, livestock, popcorn, and corndogs. And taffy. Like Harry Potter recounting memories after peering into Dumbledore’s pensieve, I’m reliving it all right now. So much fun.
Well, it was fun for us 12-year-old boys but probably not so much for my 40-something father. My dad was a good man and my mom was a wonderful woman. The night before our fair excursion, my folks sat me down and told me they were proud of the person I was becoming. The measuring rod they used was my 10-year-older brother who’d just transitioned from adolescence into young adulthood—somewhat of a model of the person all parents wish their kid would grow up to be. They didn’t say it this way, of course, but the not-so-subtle message conveyed that evening was: “If you want to know what to shoot for, look at Wes. Hit that target and you’ll do us proud.” Well aware that I already worshipped the ground Wes walked on, it was a crafty technique my parents used that evening. And seemingly persuasive.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, the state fair. So, my dad stood patiently by as my friend and I waited in long lines to ride things. We finally got up to the ferris wheel. You know, one of those double types with a wheel on either end of a massive rotator. It held lots of passengers so getting everyone safely strapped into their seats took a while.
At one point, my friend (who shall remain nameless, figuring this story might besmirch his reputation) and I were paused at the very top, sitting still while they loaded passengers onto the wheel below. In a Beaver Cleaver-like moment of mischievous pondering, I said to my friend, “You know, if a guy were to spit into the crowd from up here, no one would ever know who did it.” Of course, that was an open invitation for my friend to issue a double-dog-dare. Not wanting to back down like a weeny, I hocked the biggest loogie I could muster up and let her fly. Watching this phlegm wad glide down out of its arch and gently descend into the crowd below was all I hoped it would be.
(If you’ve figured out where this story is headed, I’d ask that you be courteous to those around you and not spoil it for them.)
Having already forgotten about my expectoration and thrilled with the fun of the ride, I looked around for my dad to tell him all about it. Imagine my shock as he stormed up to me, grabbed something (I can’t remember what it was, I just remember it hurting) and asked, “Are you the one who spit off that ferris wheel? My dad wasn’t a mean man, you understand, but he did have this way of engendering a sense of terror in those on the receiving end of his righteous wrath. “Uh, yes sir, that might have been me,” I said with a voice quivering like one whose face is about to be eaten by a grizzly bear. “Well,” my dad exclaimed angrily, “it landed all over the man standing right next to me.”
I’m pretty sure we left right after that.
Winston Churchill once gloriously proclaimed England’s “finest hour.” This was not my finest hour. My parents had a very different talk with me the next day. Two days earlier, they encouraged me to emulate Wes. Now, they wondered aloud how and why I had ignored the Wes lesson.
Perhaps there’s some Freudian explanation for my misbehavior. Or perhaps we could commission a team of psychological archeologists to unearth the hidden reasons for my deep-seated psychopathology. But here’s the basic answer to why I ignored the Wes lesson and spit off the ferris wheel. I was 12. In my immature frame of reference, it just seemed like a really cool thing to do. It never occurred to me to think about the splattered ones below. It just seemed fun because . . . I was 12.
I don’t ride ferris wheels any more but if I did, I sure wouldn’t spit off them . . . because I grew up. When kids do things like that, we call them kids. When adults do things like that, we call them names.
Drama people, as we’ve previously discussed, are chronologically older than their developmental ages. The important aspects of life—those having to do with relationships—got stuck in developmental cul-de-sacs along the way while other aspects grew to maturity. That explains why someone can be simultaneously rich, famous, or powerful and, at the same time, lack impulse control, lack empathic concern for others, lack insight into the reasons for his or her actions, lack the ability to delay gratification, or lack what’s needed to regulate emotions.
Drama people lack as adults all the things I lacked up there on top of that ferris wheel. But then . . . I was 12.
One of the biblical writers named Paul once wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Drama people don’t put away their childish things but live instead as children in the bodies of adults, figuratively spitting on the people around them. That’s why we say things like:
- Why don’t you grow up?
- I feel like I’m raising three children (and you only have 2 kids)
- I’m tired of babysitting this (pick your favorite term of derision).
- When I retire, I’m going to open a daycare center just to remind me of work?
- What are you, like 12?
So, here’s the point my illustration was searching for: Drama people can best be understood as grown-ups who never grew up.
And here’s a practical application of my point: If you ever take a drama person to the fair, don’t stand under the ferris wheel.