When I first learned how to read, labels emblazoned with KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN held my attention with a curious fascination. By all the logic of my five-year-old brain, I was still a child. But these bottles were clearly within reach of my grubby little hands, as long as I could climb onto the counter to reach them. Was I missing out on some sort of tantalizing secret contained in the bottles of bleach, shampoo and window cleaner? Were the labels some sort of secret code I wasn’t expected to be able to decipher? Or did the fact that I could read the labels mean that I was exempt from some sort of special restriction?Over the years, my reading of these labels has grown marginally more sophisticated. Lists of ingredients now run through my head with their corresponding chemical formulas. Phrases like “clever marketing” accompany me as I brush my teeth and admire the slick label design.But KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN, usually parked at the bottom, still eludes me.I’ve never really figured out why it was so important to keep those bottles out of my reach. I just got older and turned into not-a-child. What do I know now that I didn’t know then, and at what point did it actually become okay for these things to be within my reach? I think I missed the transition, somewhere between learning how to tie my shoes and realizing I could read and understand someone else’s Ph.D. thesis.I turn 21 next week, and the last “Keep Out of Reach of Children” will no longer apply. In the eyes of the United States government, I will need no more protecting. I will be fully entitled to the consequences of my own stupid decisions.Right. This, to the girl who still bunny-ears her shoelaces.Generation After-Lehman, as we’ve been called, is more responsible, more hardworking and less saddled with a feeling of entitlement than our Generation Z successors (though we do share the same tastes in music. High five, Generation Z). Supposedly it’s due to something called an economic recession that’s made us act a little more hardscrabble about our careers.But I digress. Generation After-Lehman, we, like every generation before us, are asked to live with a particular kind of duality. On the one hand, we are regularly told that we are set to change the world. On the other, it is difficult for us to rent a car without being charged an arm and a leg.A member of this generation fairly recently became one of the youngest billionaires in the world with an idea he hacked together and launched — if Wikipedia is to be believed — a few months shy of his 21st birthday. Some other guy approximately my age has taken the world of professional basketball by storm and made it okay to put really awful puns in news headlines. A dedicated staff of entirely people my own age has written and published a quality daily newspaper for over 130 years, and in their spare time earned their college degrees.Three years ago, it was illegal for me to buy a lottery ticket.Never before have these age landmarks — the ones I’ve spent most of my life waiting to trundle past — seemed more arbitrary. I’ve spent years waiting for the memo that tells me I am now qualified to make Responsible Adult Decisions, but nothing’s showing up. I’m just getting rather good at pretending to be an adult — which, if the data so far is to be believed, largely consists of doing things like not drinking window cleaner. If there is really something to it, though, if all these products do something like open a hole in the time vortex if not handled properly, now would be a good time to let me know. I’m an adult now, see. That means I have to know what I’m doing.
Deborah Liu is a junior in the College of Engineering. She may be reached at email@example.com. First World Problem appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.
Original Author: Deborah Liu