Growing Up

It’s good to be young, but let’s not kid ourselves
It’s better to pass on through those years and come out the other side
With our hearts still beating, having stared down demons
And come back breathing
–The Mountain Goats, “You Were Cool”

So, I’m still young. 23. The budding garden of youth, or whatever. But 23 is also old enough to have gone through some things and gained some measure of maturity. As I was noodling around for a title for this entry, I found that I had written some long-forgotten entries on the subject of growing up in April and May of 2011.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I feel differently now than I did then. I was dealing with a little bit of impostor syndrome, feeling like I was faking this whole adulthood thing. I had been married less than a year, and marriage is supposed to be some grand threshold where you’re adults for real (or something). But there I was. Still feeling a bit like a kid. But time marches forward, and you have experiences and you grow up, just a little at a time, until I read back over entries written just a little over two years ago and I realize that I not only can I not identify with those feelings anymore, but I can’t even remember having them. Haven’t I felt the way I feel now forever?

I guess that somewhere in those two years, I began feeling like a real grown up. Like an adult. I wouldn’t say that it was the whole thing, but I suspect that having a baby had something to do with it. Children, it seems, have a way of ripping you away from all of the cozy things you want to do and forcing you to do very not cozy things you’d really rather not. Like diapers. And rocking a screaming human at three in the morning when you’d rather be in bed and asleep. And in that process of giving up what you want for what someone else needs, you lose some of the immaturity and silliness of youth.

I’ve run across the sentiment more than once recently from people my age saying things to the effect of “Wow, I can’t believe I’m at this point in my life already! I’ve accomplished so much! At least I don’t have any babies!” While I can totally agree with the first two sentiments, the last one gives me pause. It doesn’t hurt my feelings (far be it for my feelings to be hurt by peripheral friends and acquaintances), but it made me wonder why having babies so young is something that is neither remarkable nor desirable. For sure, it’s not for everybody, but neither is it something that is terrible or life-ending. There seems to be a sentiment that having children is this life-altering, enjoyment-ending shift in your life that you will never ever recover from. And it definitely changes you forever, but it certainly isn’t life–or even enjoyment–ending. And just because things are challenging, or not always desirable, doesn’t mean that they’re not worth it.

This idea that youth should be carefree, that it should be this journey about finding yourself and being yourself–I think the way it’s presented to 20-somethings today can sell people short. Because it turns out that you can be young, and have fewer or more cares, and that you can still find yourself with other people around. Maybe those people are friends, but maybe that person is a spouse. Maybe that person is a baby. Because to me, finding yourself and growing up aren’t things that happen to people who are utterly carefree. You find yourself when you are in trying situations. When you have to decide whether or not you’re going to stand up for yourself. When a landlord has taken advantage of you again. When your friends cancel plans with you last minute because of lame excuses and it really just makes you feel crummy (are babies napping lame excuses? I haven’t figured this one out yet. And I hope not. Because I have sometimes bailed on people because of longer-than-expected naps). You find yourself when you decide how you will react to those situations. And those situations can happen to people in a wide variety of circumstances.

And when I look at who I am now, and when I look back at who I was two years ago, I think that growing up is not such a bad thing. I’m so much happier now than I was in high school, or in college even. Not that I had an unhappy childhood, but life just seems to be getting better and better as I move forward. And if growing up and gaining perspective are part of the things that are making life better, well, then I’d like to continue gaining these things.

So let’s move forward.

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