I remember distinctly the first time my mother left me home alone. I was eight, and Mom went to the post office and back, which took about twenty minutes. Before she left, she locked and double-locked every window and door. She forbade me to answer the phone or the door under any circumstances. “I don’t even care if it’s Grandma,” she said. “You don’t answer the door!” Then, she waited until I was absorbed in an episode of Full House, reminded me about the phone and the door one last time, and drove away.
She came back before the closing credits, but I recall feeling Quite Grown Up, being at home on my own. Still, it was years before I was home alone after dark, and only when I was sixteen did I spend a night entirely by myself. (Even then, it was an unexpected emergency, not a plan.)
In the later chapters of Waiting for Normal, Addie spends more and more time alone – sometimes even for several nights. As modern day readers, we find it horrifying that Mommers would leave her twelve-year-old uncared for. The thing is, in centuries past, a twelve-year-old was often considered entirely grown up. In some cultures even today, a twelve-year-old female might be married and starting her own family.
Why do we all think of twelve-year-old Addie as being a child? I wouldn’t argue against her being a child; at this point in the story, I desperately want her to have a secure home and a strong parent, the most likely candidate being Dwight. But when is the time when we know a person is truly an adult? What marks the moment when someone is entirely “grown up” and ready to be independent?