if only i’d known: growing up is like coming home
Two weeks out from my 26th birthday and I sit in a crowded Sydney café, watching the rain fall relentlessly and remembering how the looming threat of my 25th birthday a year ago caused me so much anxiety. I felt like a serial underachiever and was convinced that if I’d made nothing of myself by 25 I would never amount to anything. I treated the coming of 25 like an apocalypse; the end of my youth and somehow the end of my life, as if I would suddenly have no pulse at the 11th hour. Ironically, 25 proved to be the year I did the most “growing up”. Perhaps because I had no expectation of what it should bring.
All who have ever done it know growing up is not all it’s cracked up to be. As a child I remember having those frustrating conversations with my parents about why I couldn’t replace the box of muesli bars with a box of Roll Ups even if there was no difference in cost. My mother would tell me there was a cost to my health, which according to her was more valuable than a temporary sugar hit. She might have been right and maybe Type 2 Diabetes isn’t all the rage right now but surely the denial of ‘real fruit, flat out!’ was impinging on my civil liberties?
These conversations that took place in the snack section at our local supermarket exacerbated me beyond belief. Did my mother not realise I was a lunch monitor? I was responsible for collecting the lunch orders for our class everyday, which at that age is the equivalent of a degree in nutritional health. As if I wasn’t capable of making my own food choices! She’d always end the conversation with ‘when you grow up you can do whatever you want’. This proved to be a complete and utter lie.
To a child, being an adult looks enticing. It seems you get to eat as much ice-cream as you like even in the middle of winter and nobody tells you that you mustn’t. You can drive yourself to buy the aforementioned ice-cream and nobody asks where you’re going. But most importantly you have access to an ATM that appears to spit out money at will, allowing you to buy yourself an ice-cream mountain if you so choose.
To a kid, each sentence that begins with ‘when you grow up’ is a cruel taunt, like dangling a carrot in front of a horse and telling him he has to wait 10 years before he can eat it. But in reality, growing up is a lot like opening Pandora’s Box, promising and mysterious. There are so many things people forget to mention, or perhaps they’re pieces of advice I selectively chose to ignore. Like why did nobody tell me that growing up costs So Much Money?
Growing up means people start billing you… for everything! Remember that phone call you made three weeks ago? No? Well your phone company does and they’re going to send you a bill for that. See that car you’ve eagerly been saving for? Well you’re going to be made to pay for it and then pay to maintain it … ’til death do you part! You know that shower you can’t wait to take when you get home? The powers that be are going to invoice you for it in a few short weeks. And that shirt you’re wearing? You’re going to have to wash it. Yes you! And then someone will charge you for the water and electricity you used to do it.
Growing up is how life makes a profit on you for all those things you received that you thought were free as a child. Whoever said ‘love don’t cost a thing’ obviously didn’t live in a capitalist society.
Growing up is also a test of our emotional, physical and psychological limits. It’s a way of determining how awkward a situation has to be before you keel over and die, how many days you can go without sleep and still not walk in front of a bus and how badly your heart has to break before you declare you’re not getting out of bed until it magically heals itself. In all, growing up isn’t fun and games; it’s expensive and exhausting.
I have this strange thought process that always results in my, or somebody else’s, death (some call it being a drama queen; I call it being prepared for the worst) and so with every birthday I convince myself I will not live to see the next one. With every new chapter of my life I tell myself with complete conviction this is probably the last and I should make it a good one because nobody likes a crappy ending.
If life does happen to end before 26 (you never know) at least I know 25 was a good place to finish. I’m happy despite having achieved virtually nothing I set out to do by 26. I haven’t fallen madly in love or finished my PhD or merged my superannuation accounts. But 25 was the year I learnt to be alone and really enjoy it. Twenty-five was the year that I accepted there are moments when loneliness is OK.
Loneliness can be a timely reminder of what we’re missing but it’s not necessarily a sign that we’re lacking. If we don’t allow it to consume us but rather embrace it, it’s a sign of growth. The sooner you learn to be alone and occasionally lonely and stop feeling like the world is going to cave in on you, the less you feel you’re missing and the more you can appreciate what you have.
Growing up, in particular in the last year, has been like coming home after being away for so long. Yes, you’ve enjoyed everywhere you’ve been and yes, you’ve loved every experience thus far, but there’s nothing like returning home to your own bed, to a city whose streets you know by heart and whose laneways and underground cafes you can navigate with your eyes closed.
Growth has been like returning to childhood friends who understand you, who know what you need before you even realise it; friends who are there to offer love and comfort unconditionally and to whom you owe no explanation. Growing up is as much growing out of things as it is growing into yourself and if that’s what it continues to be then I think I’m going to be just fine when (and if) 30 finally rolls around.
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