Goldfish, trailer parks, air mattresses: The five stages of real adulting for college students

Jenna PiperRing… ring… ring… “Hi, Mom. It’s Gracie, I have a question. How do you soften butter?”

Conversations like the one above happen on daily basis with my personal human-encyclopedias, because their baby girl has officially been dipping her toe in the pool of adulting.

I will just say now, all those years you ignored the simple phrase, ‘you’re going to need to know this,’ will come back to haunt you with a vengeance when your favorite, white t-shirt comes out tie-dyed.

Stage 1: Procrastination

I started my search for my first apartment a lot like how I start studying for my school finals; I waited till the last minute and ultimately regretted it.

For the first two weeks of school, I was living out of my car and sleeping on my friend’s couches in Westwind’s trailer park. When my roommate Vinny and I had finally found a home we were not allowed to move in until the current tenants moved out and the carpet got shampooed.

I know my living situation could have been worse, and I am forever grateful for my time on those couches, but as I made my way out to my car in my bathrobe with slippers on my feet for the millionth time, I realized I was I was a set of hair curlers and a cigarette away from becoming my grandma.

Stage 2: Move-In day

When the landlord gave the OK it took me no more than one hour to buy toilet paper, ramen, plastic utensils and set up the air mattress in my bedroom. Dorothy wasn’t lying when she said there’s no place like home.

Vinny eventually went to Walmart and bought a lawn chair to serve as furniture. Without wifi, I had to pass the time with homework and books (I actually downloaded the Netflix app and tested my parent’s patience as the family data plan inched closer to its limit).

Stage 3: Got your life together

Eventually, we acquired secondhand furniture, gathered kitchen ware that wasn’t disposable, and hung a 3D picture of a bass fish on the wall. Our rental was no longer just a rental, it was home.

However, I soon realized my meals were no longer going to prepare themselves in a cafeteria, and my editor’s salary could no longer keep up with my love for Arby’s and Panda Express. I was going to have to have to put that kitchen ware to use, but there was one problem; I was no Julia Child.

Stage 4: JK, your life isn’t together

My mother being one of the best cooks I know on this side of the Mississippi, turned out to be more of a burden instead of blessing in this stage of adulting. I never thought to learn how to cook because there was no point in trying to match Debbi Piper’s fried chicken. became my best friend, along with Hamburger Helper and instant mashed potatoes. I learned little tricks like washing the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher (as crazy as it might seem) and separating your clothes before you wash them.

All these things my mother used to try and pound into my brain, but never resonated until I had to start doing them on my own on a daily basis.

Stage 5: It is what it is

A month down the road we welcomed a third roommate into our dysfunctional home, and now we are a family. We’re the kind family who saw abandoned goldfish, brought them to into our home, went to Walmart, and came home with more goldfish and a picasimus that we named Casa.

A Planters peanut can is holding my kitchen utensils and duct tape is securing our grill to the deck in protest of the Cheyenne wind.

At this point in a college kid’s life, at least in mine, it’s easy to look at your situation and wonder why others have it better than you or become impatient because you stare out your window and look at your 1990 used Buick Century, and instead envision a jet-black 1967 Shelby GT 500 in your driveway.

Yet, it’s nights when I come home from a long day at the newsroom and see my little family sitting at the dinner table with a homecooked meal or wake up to Vinny feeding Casa and the goldfish that make me wish days on Montalto Dr. will never end.

So, dear college kids who think adulting begins in the dorms, I did too. However, I am here to say that realizing you can’t afford your favorite food changes a person.

Here’s the real kicker, the stages of adulting are infinite, and each day the real world shows more its true self, and it can be frightening.

Ring… ring… ring… “Hi, Dad. It’s Gracie, I have a question. Why did I get an email saying I was no longer on the cell phone plan?”


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