Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s a weird thing to say. Not because getting older scares me or because I have been dreading the day, but because I am uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating the day I was born in a public way. I wasn’t even sure I was going to mention it all. That kind of attention isn’t always something I enjoy. But I am bringing it up because the entire concept of turning twenty-nine is something I have been ruminating over.
“You were never a baby,” spoke my grandmother once, many, many years ago.
It didn’t sound like a compliment.
I was thirteen and hopelessly self-conscious. Any hint of criticism sent me down into the depths of despair. I don’t think my grandmother expected how much those words would stick in my brain. How much I would take them to heart. I saw my early maturity as a failing, something to be ashamed of, but at the same time, something I was just going to have to bear. My personal cross. I was never a baby, never young enough, never innocent enough, never cute enough. As such, it was my responsibility to take care of my younger sister. My duty to look out for others and take on tasks beyond my years. No whining aloud. No shenanigans. Complaining and mistake-making were only allowed for children.
However, at the same time, the older I got, the less mature I felt. At seventeen, I would look around at my fellow classmates and feel years behind. They all seemed so much more experienced at life. I had barely done anything other than homework. Five years later, at twenty-two, I felt even less prepared for the world. Sure and I had a university degree, it was time for me to go out and get a real job, but I wasn’t sure I had even mastered the art of tying my shoelaces.
For the longest time this quote from my favourite novel-writer, Margaret Atwood, resonated deeply.
“Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” (via)
The first time - the only time - I ever felt more experienced than others my age was at a Christmas party, circa 2004. A friend of mine had invited me to a gathering at her house for the holidays. She was the only one there I knew as the others she invited she knew from the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Religious groups weren’t my usual crowd. (As if I had a crowd.) As I am a nice person and had no other plans, I agreed to attend.
Now, it’s not as if my friends were particularly hard-core. But we were twenty-one. In Alberta, eighteen is the age of majority. While none of us were partiers, we had still been fully initiated in the rites of the university student. So initiated the bar scene was pretty much played out for us. Not so for my fellow party guests. It took about twenty minutes for me to realise just how un-initiated the others all were. For the first time in my life, I was the sophisticated one.
It was bizarre.
My friend had prepared two separate punch bowls. One without added flavour, and one with a little something just for the two of us. She didn’t tell the others about the second special punch until later in the night. But even when the secret slipped, I don’t think the innocent IVCF group even got it. One of the guys was about to take a sip from my friend’s glass and she pulled it away with a laugh, saying he wouldn’t like it.
“Awww,” he pouted. “But I want some special punch. Aren’t I special enough?”
Again, not that consumption of alcohol is what denotes adulthood, but for the first time I felt more knowledgeable. In a way, almost superior. After a lifetime of never feeling remotely equal, it was pretty exhilarating. The next day, of course, I was back to feeling like my old inferior self. Yet the memory never left.
The reason I am babbling about all this is because I think I am finally there. For the first time, I really do feel like a bill-paying, card-carrying adult. And have done so for a while. It kind of sneaks up on you doesn’t it? I can’t say when it started. Last year? The year before? Not sure. It has taken most of my twenties to get here. It may not even look like it from the outside.
My furniture still doesn’t match. I own more t-shirts and jeans than business suits. I still barely take the effort to tie my shoelaces. But inside, I know. I present myself in a different way. I approach other adults and expect them to see me as an equal, whether they are older or younger. I don’t feel like I am faking it. Each and every day, I get up and take on that world*, even if it is the last thing I want to do.
I’m not a kid anymore.
Inspiration for this line and the title of this post came from an ancient song of the forgotten Canadian band, The Pursuit of Happiness: “I’m An Adult Now.” Bonus points to anyone who has ever even heard of it before.