When I was an elementary school student, I would tell my younger sister bedtime stories to fall asleep. We had a few recurring ones but usually every night involved naming a person, place, and thing from which I would start to weave some one-dimensional tale about a girl who lived on some variety of a farm with her grandparents and regularly wore overalls and accessories that referenced whatever was grown on that farm. It was a cozy bedtime routine and my sister would usually be fast asleep before I could even get ten minutes in. In the quiet moments before I also drifted off, I’d be left to wonder if we would have the same routine in a year, in two years, if as we grew up bedtime stories would become a silly sort of thing or we’d forget that they ever happened. These thoughts filled me with foreboding. I did not want to grow up. I was happy in my world of make-believe where I built houses for fairies and ran around my backyard pretending to be the long-lost daughter of Robin Hood. What scared me the most was that maybe everyone else would mature out of these things naturally but I would be stuck as a child, still attached to my imaginary games and my stories. I was afraid I would be lonely and far behind the rest.
At age 14 I was no longer playing make believe. For the most part the things that I feared turned out to be a non-issue. Yes, I still passed time in math class by imagining myself as a stowaway on a pirate ship in the late 1800s, but as far as I could tell, I was maturing just fine. Still, my panic about the future remained. I was active in youth theater and had met my best friends on stage. We were a tight-knit group and while I was blissfully happy in their company, my time with them was riddled with worry. I would often quiz my parents on who they were still friends with from middle school and their unsure responses were terrifying. I had been so happy in my circle and yet all I could ever think about was how finite my connections could be. Time, it seemed, was nothing but a rubber band that grew more stretched and brittle with every passing week. To enjoy the present was to set yourself up for future heartbreak. My mind couldn’t seem to grasp that growing up meant good things, too. All I wanted was to stay young and naïve, belting show tunes at the top of my lungs during the after-school carpool to play practice.
Besides one, I am no longer close with those friends from age 14. No big falling out – it was just the paths of our growth fell out of synch. And it didn’t turn out to be such a big deal. The course of time is such a natural thing that one barely notices its passing. And while growing up seems scary while nestled safely under the protection of adolescence, it’s time that readies you for the new responsibilities that come with each fleeting year. I spent a great deal of my youth terrified of college, of paying taxes, of kissing boys and working a 9-5 job. It all seemed so big, so unsurmountable. But when each moment came, I barely blinked. Throughout my teenage years I had a constant feeling of being behind, of being a child in a teenage girl’s ballet flats and peasant tops, but life was a stealthy teacher. I was maturing, readying myself for the real world, and I didn’t even notice.
I am turning 25 this week. I could write a list of 25 things I’ve learned in 25 years (#2. Never make someone a priority if they don’t make you one!) but I don’t think I have the wisdom. I don’t think after only 25 years of life anyone really has the wisdom. Yes I’ve got a great deal more common sense under my belt than I did last year and the year before that. Yes, I’m better with heartbreak, better at focusing, more driven than I’ve ever been before. But that’s not special. That’s natural. That’s life throwing experiences at me and me learning from each and every one of them. We’ve all been there; we’re all still going through it. Any time I feel like I’m floundering in the midst of these new, serious responsibilities I take a look around and see that I’m not the only one struggling. I also see that a great deal of my peers have already nailed it and some are considerably farther behind than I am. We go at our own pace but we’re still all going.
A birthday means you survived another year. It doesn’t necessarily mean you thrived for another year. It doesn’t necessarily mean that time spent another 365 days beating the crap out of you. It just means you lived. But in that living things touched you. You may not have felt it at the time but you were learning from every instance of disappointment, every single triumph, every single ordinary Friday night that you spent alone with your cat and “Law and Order: SVU” and a giant bowl of ramen. Sure, I’m a little terrified of what happens next. The next ten years could see me buying a house, starting a family, maybe (dear goodness, hopefully) even getting off my parent’s cellphone plan. It’s daunting to me with my 25 years of experience that’s why I have more in front of me. There are more books to read and movies to see and people to meet and challenges to undertake. These things are inevitable, and with them, so is growth. To know this isn’t to banish my fears completely but it does help to keep me in the present. I’ve stopped worrying about whether or not I’ll be ready because time has shown me again and again that it’s working with and not against me.