not nineteen forever – the burdens of growing up

I always find it kind of awkward to transfer my 2am thoughts into acceptable posts that can be read regardless of what time of day it is without offending the more cynical aesthetic of daytime, where everything feels a little less
sentimental than it does when you’re curled up in the warmth of your bed, when it’s dark outside and you’ve got your headphones on as loudly as they’ll go.

To me that is a typical teenage moment, where you’re just ignoring the world in your own little safe bubble and nothing can touch you, and no one expects anything from you because no normal person is usually awake after midnight for no reason… Maybe that’s why I love night time so much, it’s my time.

Do you ever wonder when the transition happened?  When you swapped midnight feasts for vodka shots before heading out and stumbling into a taxi in stupid shoes you can’t walk in (that’s a lie, I’ve never really bothered with heels from the beginning, for safety precautions), or when suddenly you were taller than your mum (or even your dad), when people you once recognised in the playground are now travelling the world or are six foot tall with beards, when suddenly you started dating guys with beards, or girls who are now young women, when your dreams were sparkles in the sky instead of the number of people who know your name or the number of 0’s in your bank account? Maybe reality hit you a little hard a little too soon, and you lost some people you love along the way too, and you lost contact with people you thought you would know forever, or people changed and you simply drifted apart (it’s okay if it was you who changed too, that is allowed). When you realised that your favourite song wasn’t going to save you in a moment of trouble in a dodgy street, or your favourite fictional character wasn’t going to swoop you up and carry you to safety. Or you realised that not all adults are right and honest.

When were we no longer children?

The trouble I’m having with growing up is the fact that no one my age seems to talk about it much, because everyone’s doing it, so I guess what’s the point in discussing it? Everyone seems to be getting on with it ‘just fine’, but are they really? Am I being indulgent by writing this, feeling lost about growing up? Are we meant to just get on with it now? (If you’re a significant amount of years older than me and you’re reading this now thinking, ‘pfft, you’re just a kid’, well then, I’d say you have a point, but it’s all relevant. Don’t worry, this is for you too). I’m going to say yes, I have to get on with it, because everything could be so much worse, and everyone’s doing it, so I’ll make this post the end of it, maybe.

Our parents are getting older too, and it’s easy to think that life makes complete sense once you’re an ‘adult’, when you’ve had jobs and maybe you’ve got married and started families of your own and you’ve seen some more of the world, etc, but when I turned eighteen last year, there definitely wasn’t a switch in my head that suddenly went from ‘child’ to ‘adult’. I don’t necessarily think any differently.

My parents say the same. It’s hard to imagine that our parents actually had lives before us, and that teachers actually have lives outside of school.  Sadly, the only thing that does change is your reflection in the mirror, and things that you didn’t even think about when you were a young spring chicken are now pretty difficult for you to do. We need to empathise with our parents too.

But I can’t help but wonder what the point of being a teenager actually is.

They’re meant to be the best years of your life. You spend seven years in a weird social experiment called ‘school’, getting grades for your future, tiptoeing around what you should and shouldn’t do in order to fit in. And then you leave, and suddenly all the things that you used to hide about yourself, that you were embarrassed to admit because it wasn’t the ‘done’ thing, are suddenly what make you stand out as an individual that people seem to want to know about. Suddenly people don’t like the people who bossed people around for their own ego and dictated the responses of other people’s decisions, and you wish you’d never spent so much time worrying or being upset about certain things or times in your life which might seem so much easier or less significant than things are now, right?

WRONG. Everything is a rite of passage. Don’t be one of those people who forgets what it feels like to be thirteen or fifteen, when you probably didn’t know anything about politics or job ladders and employment, because you were too busy working out how people work, and that’s completely okay. It’s so important to have that time, when you had low confidence, when you looked in the mirror and didn’t like what you saw, when you had those days when you wished you could change your personality entirely, and make a better version of yourself, because once you’ve made the personal changes that you can make, the things you can’t change no longer matter, because new challenges come into play.

That’s what aging is, in my eyes; you’re simply becoming a better version of yourself every day. That doesn’t mean every day has to be better than the previous, you don’t have to be increasingly happier than you were yesterday, it’s just a gradual positive correlation; the older you get, the better you get, eventually (unless you’re edible…). As an adult you might look back on your younger self and wistfully think “but I looked so much better then”, but think about it. Would you really erase what you have now to have wrinkle free skin?

More importantly, would you really wish you could return to a time where you had no idea who you were or who you were going to be, with no idea where your life was going to take you, with all the things that you didn’t see coming still yet to happen to you all over again? Or are you happy to keep the memories in your backpack and keep making them at your glorious age of wisdom that you are now?

For those of you who read one of my last blogposts about childhood dreams, I guess you could call this an echo of that. If any of you have younger siblings or relatives, I hope you’ll also be able to relate.

I recently went to Disneyland with my family, and I firmly believe no one should put an age limit on that place, because it’s another bubble away from the ‘real world’ (just like the nights you spend curled up in bed). You don’t want to think about it as a money maker, you want to believe in the magic. It’s for the adults too, who watch their kids soak up the happiness of this colourful, magical world. But what about when you’re nineteen? Are you with the kids or the adults?

It’s almost like a protectiveness thing. While I’m over the moon about my eight year old sister gradually becoming a more passionate Potterhead every passing day, I’m always going to think I’m more attached to it because it came out as I was growing up, it was my childhood, along with Lord of the Rings and the CBBC show ‘Come Outside’ (with Pippin the Dog) and the rest. The books were my bedtime stories, and every time I saw one of the films at the cinema it planted a significant day in my memory (up to a certain age, me and my friends decided it would be a really good idea to wear our robes to the cinema for full effect - Lessons in Social Suicide by Me). Every time someone directs the things that I saw as my childhood to someone younger than me, it’s a constant reminder that I no longer fit into that category.

My best friend and I recently went to Scotland for a really exotic summer holiday (…) which unintentionally ended up being like a pilgrimage back into our childhoods, as we took a ride on the Jacobite train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct (the same route the students would take to Hogwarts), shared a pot of tea and ate soup in the same café (and potentially the same table by the window with the view of Edinburgh castle) that JK Rowling began writing Harry Potter at the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh (we almost got emotional in the toilets because fans had exploded their affection for JK Rowling with messages and quotes over every part of the white walls, probably the only toilets that you would find tourists taking photos). It was a weird situation where the fictional world seemed in step with my real world existence. 

I’ve never really seen myself as having children in the future (probably because I’m too reluctant to accept I’m not a child anymore) but I can imagine why it’s such an exciting part of an adult’s life, being a parent, because you can revisit childhood through your children. That’s the sad thing I guess, though. It’s no longer for you, it’s their turn.

Now we’re becoming the adults. We have to be ‘responsible’ and there’s the constant pressure to be ‘productive’.

How do we work out what we want to do with our lives when we’re only just becoming more informed about important matters in life, and realising that pop stars aren’t necessarily people you should idolise, that the world can actually be pretty dangerous and scary, and all those big dreams you had when you were little are made a little bit harder by two things; effort and money. You can’t help but feel like everyone’s monitoring your progress. We no longer get recognition for doing things well unless in some situations, because it’s what’s expected of us. We’re on our own now; we don’t have someone to report to, and we’ll start to hear about the successes of all the people in our circles younger than us that we were once known for.

We’re being reluctantly dragged into the ‘real world’. What a disgusting term. Does that mean everything we’ve learnt up until now, all those moments of insecurity we had, all the difficult times or all the happy times, probably dotted with pop culture references and empowering musical heroes, was just a test run? It’s like the rest of the world is saying, ‘Yeah, you did that, but just you wait for BILLS, DEBT, HORRIBLE BOSSES, TAX, LOANS, RENT, MORTGAGE, you don’t even know the half of it’.

And as for all those films we grew up on, we have to accept that our mundane lives are never really going to feel as magical and as exciting as they would if saving the world was a matter in our own hands. They’re never going to look like they’ve been touched up by a cinematographer with slow mo-moments and pretty filters, but your life is your own story, and there’ll be ‘patronus’ moments of your own where you’ve never felt happier, and life will never have looked better. We’re never going to be Spiderman, or Aragorn, or Hermione, or Katniss. But there are others, who are a bit more normal seeming. The Gwen Stacey’s, the Clarke Kent’s… I’m just kidding. There are actually real life heroes in our lives, like our families or all the people who change our lives for the better, or the people who do achieve their dreams and show us that it’s possible, despite the powers of the ‘real world’.

BUT WAIT. It’s actually okay to not be a hero either. Like I said, it shouldn’t matter how many people know your name, as long as you’re living how you want to live. If you’re being the best person you can be, you’re probably influencing people in really important little ways that you don’t even realise, and that to me is being a hero in its own right.

Never do I ever want to relive my teenage years, when I really think about it. Maybe neither will you, unless you had a fairly happy-go-lucky time… My view is that I always want to be optimistic. I never want to lose the excitement I always had for the future when I was younger, without wishing my time away.

One of the saddest things I realised in this past year, is how many of my friends are slowly letting go of the things that pushed them through their difficult times as teenagers, because those things are not deemed ‘adult’ anymore, when in fact it shouldn’t even matter. It’s so sad to hear that people are literally prepared to close the door on their childhood or the things they always thought they were going to do, as if they’re mourning something that’s no longer a part of them.

Do that with the bad parts you wish to leave behind, by all means, but FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THE GOOD PARTS WITH YOU. Our imaginations and ambitions are so important, no matter how little or large. We have to find ways of keeping magical elements in our lives, for the sake of keeping the child in us alive.

Contrary to science, my theory is that we only get bigger because we’re simply growing layers (that comment was potentially inspired by Shrek…). We always have the little child in us, we just get thicker skinned, ready for bigger adventures. The challenges might get bigger, but there’s nothing wrong with returning to your childhood whenever you need to.

“You’re not nineteen forever, pull yourselves together, it’s not big, and you’re definitely not clever”