On Growing Up


Sweat congealed by tears. Thousands of fists, raised to the heavens, cursing with conviction. Shrieks condense the air with a thick fog of misery, cacophonous wails drown out any last sign of hope, suffering entombs the room like amber, all while calls for “mommy” ricochet off of every surface and inflict endless pain onto innocent ears. 

Every man’s worst nightmare: Summer camp. 

This summer marked the most momentous transition I’ve experienced in my adolescence– the shift from camper to counselor. From begging for an ice pack for a nonexistent boo-boo to being the reluctant escort to the nurse’s office. From demanding we go in the pool to explaining we are in the middle of a severe thunderstorm and thus, we cannot.  Beyond that, this summer was the first time I had a real job. The start of the endless and dreary cycle of labor for monetary compensation. 

Among an innumerable amount of unhinged comments I received from my four-year-olds, one that stuck out (and compelled me towards purchasing eye cream) began as an innocent conversation about a cat. 

“My dad has a kitty cat and he’s thissssssss big.”
Arms stretched out to indicate the size of the cat, notably, much too large to be a cat.

“Aw, I love kitty cats! I wish I could have one, but my dad’s allergic.”
Immediate expression of bewilderment.
“You still have parents? I thought you were like 45!”

This conversation lasted no more than five seconds. The little girl probably forgot about it directly after, her mind much too preoccupied with the great injustice that little Evan had fruit snacks and she did not. Yet, this set off a realization that had been simmering in the back of my mind for the greater part of the past three years. I know I’m not 45. I’m much closer to 4 than I am 45. Still, to these kids– I was the unfathomable, I was the other, I was the elderly. 

I was 16.

And so, I came to the halting and terrifying realization: I’m not a little kid anymore. 

Nothing spreads Peter Pan syndrome quite like a group of wailing kindergarteners. Kneeling against hot asphalt, they wielded chalk and opened portals to new dimensions with every stroke. With every Tic-Tac-Toe game, with every half-drawn butterfly, their minds left their bodies and fell into their limestone-ridden realms. It didn’t matter if they didn’t know the rules to Tic-Tac-Toe, or if I had obviously let them win– they were wholly and completely in the moment. With my knees burning and the sun eroding away at my skin, I realized I missed when I didn’t know the rules, and when every chalk scribble was a dinosaur or a magical princess. 

Yet, despite all this nostalgia I felt for early childhood, I remember being their age and longing to be one of the cool kids at the mall who didn’t have to bring her mom, one of the girls who wear high heels and makeup to go to school, eventually coming home to lay on her overly throw-pillowed bed and text her athlete boyfriend on her bedazzled pink flip phone. Admittedly, my perception of being a teenager was warped by the Disney Channel. Even now, I know one day I’ll be an adult, staring back with desperation for my adolescence. Is our existence just a long string of moments of seeking for more, followed by moments of longing for what we once had? Nothing is ever enough until it’s over.

I cannot say if I’m truly upset that I’m not eight years old anymore. I don’t know if I am. I certainly don’t miss that tear-ridden 5:30 drive to ballet classes, nor the soul-crushing tutu my limbs were forced to make a home, nor do I miss the booger-laden preschool walls. I miss wanting to grow up, I miss standing too close to my TV screen until my eyes sear, I miss going to bed in an ocean of stuffed animals. I miss my rose-colored predisposed fantasy of what being a teenager should look like. 

Is it most productive to live a life untethered from these intangible desires? What do we miss when we are missing things? Is the only way to live fully in the moment to let go of the past and future?

Who knows.

If there’s one thing that unifies us in all stages of life, it’s not knowing what we’re doing. Maybe pretending is the great equalizer after all. We can pretend we know what we are doing, we can pretend we don’t miss the past, we can pretend we don’t dread the future– we can pretend that we are living in the present. Perhaps if we pretend enough, things will come true. 

How funny that one snarky comment from a four-year-old taught me these lessons. So thank you, little girl– and I’m sorry you didn’t get your fruit snacks.