“When you’re older, dear,” my mother said.
“When will I be older?” I asked.
“When you’re all grown up. Like us,” said my father.
And so I wondered. What does it mean to grow up?
At age 5, I thought it was having a job. At age 10, I thought it was wearing a bra. At age 12, I believed that it was being in love.
And so, at age 13, when I couldn’t come up with anything else more…concrete, I tried. Even though I couldn’t – not really, not then – I tried. I tried for years. Sometimes, every now and then, I still feel like I’m only trying.
Because sometimes we do pretend. We spend all that energy trying to grow up, and grow up fast, that, just for a while, we pretend to know what it’s all about. We cry for ourselves and pretend that it was for someone else. We laugh because we want to and claim it’s because they made us. We refuse to recognize the power of the individual, the power we have over ourselves, so much and over and over again.
And yet, during those years of in-between, of growing-up-but-not-quite, those feelings are our sanctuary. If we didn’t feel like we’ve got our lives figured out at 15 or if we didn’t assume our feelings to be unchanging at 16, we wouldn’t have felt safe.
Self-rationalization is the teenagers’ home base.
And then comes a stage where we look around us, more than we’ve ever looked before. Its like being older has suddenly opened our eyes and filled our heads with this chronic need to relate. To someone, some thing, a story, a song. We look at other people, other stories besides ours, and we see them so clearly, down to the smallest details. ‘I must have grown up,’ you think, ‘To be able to see so well.’
Sometimes, their stories influence you. Influence you to the point where you crave that idea, their idea, with a desperation akin to escapism. It’s thinking that, if only you had something like that, your life would just be copacetic. You crave that idea more than anything of real substance and emotion. Sometimes, you let go fast; if you’re lucky. Sometimes you latch on so tightly that it drags you down.
Sometimes, some of us have to fight harder to grow up and realize that it doesn’t work that way. Not really.
It took me 18 years to finally understand the meaning of growing up. And I was surprised to find out that wasn’t nearly as complicated as I once thought it was.
Growing up is learning to swim. Not just staying afloat, but to swim. To move your limbs and pump your lungs and feel the strain in your muscles. It’s learning to learn how to move your body from the little ripples in the water. It’s going the distance without fear and going under when you feel like it. Swimming.
I’m still learning how to swim. I think I will be for a good couple years. But this I can say: I won’t rest till I’ve perfected my technique. I’m finally out of my home base.