I came into 2016 wondering if I would feel more or less grown-up this year. I passed the 40 milestone a couple of years ago and several other markers of adulthood on the way (marriage, mortgage, three kids). I can hardly pretend I am young. And I quite enjoy referring to myself as "middle-aged". (If you're around my age and shuddering at this, think about the alternative. Do you really want to live much past 85? This really is the middle bit, guys. If we're lucky.)
But I worry, though, that the older I get, the more I want to stay childlike. And with my youngest child aged five there really is not very much excuse to be attempting to source Camberwick Green videos anymore. ("Mum. This is embarrassing. Why is there no CGI?") Nor does the 12-year-old exactly buy the claim that the "collector's item vintage" spacehopper is for him and not for me.
At the same time I have had a nagging suspicion for a while that being "grown-up" has a bad rap. Now a new book Why Grow Up? (the title is facetious) by philosopher Susan Neiman argues that there are loads of good things about being old and a responsible grown-up, and that we all need to get over the narcissism of the youth-obsessed age we're living in. (I am still thinking childishly: "Wow. A philosopher. That's cool. Why didn't I become a philosopher? Is it too late to become a philosopher? How do you do that?" Not very grown-up.)
Neiman makes the case that 'travel' is the answer. By 'travel' she means an open mind: go and do new stuff, think about new things, read about things you were never interested in before, visit places you hadn't considered
I really hope this state of mind can take off but Neiman is right that it's almost heresy to admit that you want to be a grown-up. (The subtitle of her book? "Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age.") She describes us as living in a culture of "rampant immaturity": "As you grow up, you are told to renounce most of the hopes and dreams of your youth, and resign yourself to a life that will be a pale dilution of the adventurous, important and enjoyable life you once expected." Culturally, she argues, we have an unspoken rule that the best time of your life is between the ages of 16 and 26.
Philosophers across the ages have tried to reverse this thinking and prove that life is more satisfying the older we get and the more wisdom we acquire. Neiman makes the case that "travel" is the answer. By which she does not mean going on a fortysomething gap year. (I never had a gap year which almost makes me wonder whether it is a required thing that makes you feel automatically grown-up.) By "travel" she means an open mind: go and do new stuff, think about new things, read about things you were never interested in before, visit places you hadn't considered. That represents a sort of youthful grown-up-ness that really appeals to me.
I recently came across a quote from the novelist Lionel Shriver about how she changed her thinking in her twenties when she realised that she was going to have to work really hard to be a writer. She was having to rewrite manuscripts, struggling to believe it was working and thinking, "Maybe I should do something easier." Eventually she thought to herself: "Stop being such a baby." And this is the difference.
In order to do anything interesting and worthwhile, you do have to stop being a baby and accept that anything worthwhile is hard and, yes, grown-up and has lots of annoying bits to it. Why grow up? Because you are not a baby. And who would want to be a fortysomething baby? I'm not giving up my spacehopper, though. I do my best philosophical thinking on it.