Being an adult really stinks, doesn’t it?

As adults we are often required to make hard choices, the ones that make us the least happy, the ones we really, really don’t want to pick. But, we have to, for the good of the bigger picture, sometimes.

The first time that I remember having to exercise that adult side of my picker came when I was in high school.

In DeKalb County in the ’80s, there were no middle schools. You went from seventh grade at the elementary school to eighth grade at the high school, and for that first year you were the lowest form of humanity on the planet, a sub-freshman.

The upperclassmen lovingly referred to us as “subbies” and we lived in fear for our lives. The rumor that circulated before we even arrived at the school was that, if caught on the front sidewalk of the school, all subbies would be pushed down the long steep hill below, a fate that would surely end in death, or at least serious injury to both body and ego.

High school was serious business and we had to play our cards just right: blend in, wear the right clothes, and simply make it through with no real attention earned.

Of course, my mother didn’t quite get the significance of that nuance, as she and her friends in the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving had something different in mind for me.

They wanted to start a student club with a message of choosing sobriety over drugs and alcohol and as one of the newest members of the student body, she felt that I was the perfect person to spearhead such an endeavor.

I couldn’t have disagreed more, but it’s hard to say no to your momma, especially when it is important to her that you feel as strongly for her cause.

And so, we started a club. It was called “Option: Youth in Action” and we set up tables at lunch to hand out paraphernalia, and planned alcohol- and drug-free parties in hopes of wooing our fellow students away from dangerous choices.

It was a new concept and quickly gained us notoriety, both locally and nationally. So much so that in the fall of my sophomore year, I was invited to speak on a panel about youth organizations at a national conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by Nancy Reagan, at which she would be the keynote speaker.

It was a huge honor, but keep in mind that I had begrudgingly gone about this mission in the first place, and so my trepidation continued. Did I really want to be known as the girl who spoke out against drugs and alcohol at a national conference?

It was a stand that had been chosen for me, and it still felt like social suicide, even though I had never had any intention of imbibing the stuff in the first place.

It was in the midst of this internal struggle that the phone rang one evening and my adult button was pushed in a most frustrating way.

On the other end of the line was a tall, blond boy named Bob, a boy I had certainly noticed but had no idea that he had noticed me. He was a couple of years older and my knees went weak the moment he announced who he was and why he was calling.

“I have tickets to the Crosby, Stills and Nash concert at the Omni and was wondering if you wanted to go with me,” he explained.

My innocent little lanky and awkward sophomore heart went pitter pat! I was being asked out for my first date, and while I relished that delicious moment it hit me: I couldn’t go. I was going to be in Washington, D.C., talking at a conference that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to attend.

Oh, how I wanted my life to be different at that moment! I loved Crosby, Stills and Nash, I loved having a tall handsome older boy ask me to go see them, and I loved the idea that my very first concert at the Omni would be with a boy and not with my friends.

I wanted so badly to be able to ignore this distasteful obligation and take the much more interesting option of saying yes, but I had to do the grownup thing and say no. It was like an out-of-body experience as I heard myself explaining the situation and feeling through the phone line how awkward that surely made him feel.

I never spoke to him again, and I’m quite sure it was because I couldn’t just say, “No, I can’t” and instead felt the need to fill him in on the why of it all.

When Nancy coined the phrase, “Just say no” I don’t think she was thinking about my difficult choice surrounding a date vs. her conference, but it will forever reference that for me.

Our choices are what make us, as they say, and this choice made me the awkward girl who had to turn down her first date for a badge she was completely uncomfortable bearing.

As we enter the holiday season with the pandemic hanging over our heads, I am reminded of that time, one of many of course, in which I had to make the uncomfortable and responsible choice over doing what I really wanted.

I’m not judging here, mind you, just acknowledging the struggle we all find ourselves enduring. To visit, or not to visit, that is the question, but the complexity of it for each and every one of us is huge.

What works for one might not work for another, and we are simply trying to navigate the choices to the best of our ability. May you and yours be safe and well and happy this holiday season, no matter how you choose.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

Recommended for you