The Story of Adolescence
One perspective on the coming of age passage for the holidays.
Posted Dec 16, 2019
At this time of year, I like to commemorate a gift I received many years ago from an older client who referred to adolescence by a term that poetically captured for me the coming of age passage. “Climbing Fool’s Hill,” he called it, and the story I imagined to go with it went like this:
I’ll describe it to you the way my grandfather once explained it to me many years ago when at the proud age of 10, I stopped by to tell him that I was fed up with my parents, didn’t need them anymore, and was running away from home.
Well, he didn’t say anything at first. Just got out some bread and jam and soda and proceeded to feed me the way he always did.
“It’s hard traveling on an empty stomach,” he said at last. “And it sounds like you’re ready to do some serious climbing.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Well, when I was your age it was called ‘climbing Fool’s Hill,’ and I guess that name is as good now as it was back then.”
“I never heard of Fool’s Hill and I don’t think that there really is such a place,” I replied.
“Oh, there is, all right, and you’re going to climb it, and it won’t be easy. Most of the time you won’t be able to see where you’re headed. Just away from home and out into the world is all you’ll know. The reason you’ll be leaving is that you think your parents have changed and become too hard to live with. They’re not so much fun to be around as they used to be, are making all kinds of unreasonable demands on you and keep putting rules in the way of what you want to do.
“You’ll think you’re going one direction, but they’ll say you’re going opposite. Then there will be arguments about which way you should go, so you and they will disagree a lot of the time. You’ll tell them they don’t understand, that you know best, and to let you alone to decide. But they’ll tell you that you don’t understand, that you’re still their child, and they are responsible for getting you up that hill.
“Sometimes you’ll go along with part or all of what they want and other times you’ll disobey, and some of those times you’ll get in trouble from mistakes you make which looking back on seem downright stupid. But you didn’t know that at that time. That’s when you’ll feel like a fool and start wondering if you’re ever going to make it to the top of that darn hill and grow up.
“Your parents will wonder about that, too. They’ll criticize the path you’ve chosen to travel and who you’re traveling with, and they’ll decide that you can’t get to where they want you to go from the way you’re going. So they’ll try to set you on a different path in different company. That’s when things will really get hot between you.
“Then they’ll tell you that they never did the darn fool things you’re doing when they were your age. And that’s true. They did different darn fool things. But they’ll mean well even when you think they’re just being mean. And you’ll try your best even when they think you’re not trying at all. And somehow, despite losing your way, backsliding, breaking a few bones and a lot of hopes and promises, you’ll make it to the top of that hill. Then looking back down you’ll see what a long way you’ve come.
“You’ll see that in some ways your parents were right and in some ways that they were wrong about your path. In some ways, they were a help to you and in other ways a hindrance. But you’ll understand that at least they tried to do what was right even when it was wrong. And you’ll know that at last, you are on top of Fool’s Hill because they’re not interested in pushing at you anymore, and you’re not interested in pushing back at them. Now you’ll be able to climb something bigger and to climb it without their help.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
He laughed. “Well, I guess you could call it Fool’s Mountain. But whatever you call it, you’ll find enough triumph and trouble on your way up to last a lifetime. No matter how far you climb, you’ll never get to the top. And no matter how well you climb there will be times, after some stumbling steps from some stupid choices, that you’ll wonder if you’re still not back climbing that old Fool’s Hill.”