Even though her shaved-head phase came at a more calamitous juncture than mine– I was an eighth-grade nobody, she was a world-famous train-wreck– Britney and I have something in common. That whole “not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman”-ness she belted out, arms stretched, on the lip of the Grand Canyon or wherever she shot that godawful music video. Hackneyed bullshit ignored, she had a pretty good point.
Or, rather, whoever actually wrote the lyrics to her song had a pretty good point.
Growing is a misnomer more aptly described as falling down. A hill. carrying a tray of very fragile, very precious things, and wearing no body armor. On a bad hair day. And there are cute boys, everywhere. Your high school adjustment counselor was lying to you when she said life would get easier when you grew up. Think about it: She had a snow globe from every truck stop east of the mason-dixon line on a shelf above her desk, and wore her hair in pig-tails at the age of fifty-six. She wasn’t so well-adjusted, herself.
Truly, though, when do we grow up? Is it when we move out? Because I don’t know exactly when I even did that. I know I went to college, but when I left I still had a bedroom in Mom’s house. Now, it’s a storage closet and I live in a one-bedroom apartment. And I don’t remember transitioning.
I know that who I am at twenty-three is someone I would have called a phony at thirteen. But, who I am at twenty-three would give who I was at thirteen a detention more quickly than Holden Caulfield could gawk at a girl’s falsies. Can I measure my maturity based on how much I hate my past self, though? I mean, surely there are well-adjusted, mature adults who like who they were as a teenager. But they were probably really cool teenagers, or they’re now really lame adults.
I don’t know where I fall in.
There was a time when I didn’t think I was pretty without makeup on. And I drank every night, and suffered through every day. I had a lot of friends but hated them all, and my only hobby was wasting things. I was pretty lame. Of course, I don’t lead a much more exciting existence now, but I do respect myself. I find happiness in things and people because I seek out places and company that bring me joy.
And I think I’m most beautiful when I take my makeup off at the end of the day.
It’s the contrast, between seeing who I was pretending to be, and who I really am. Seeing the latter as superior to the former is a pretty grown-up feeling. Gives me big-girl chills.
So I guess my expert experience in the matter would place the marker of being a “grown-up” somewhere after the marker of “realizing you’re human.” We spend a lot of time when we’re young trying to find who we are, which is ridiculous. We are who we are. There’s not a lot to find, just a bit to get used to.
It’s a cycle of retrospection. When I remember who I was only a year ago, I don’t remember thinking I was invincible but I surely remember living as if. And now I’m dancing precariously through my life wondering what it is I’ll regret a year from now. Possibly pessimistic, but also eye-opening. Living means learning, and learning means learning what to avoid. And it means learning how to adjust to a new path, rather than throw your arms up in despair and curl up in the ditch to die when your course is re-routed.
So I don’t really think that growing up has a lot to do with income, or degrees earned, or rent paid, or any of it. I think it has a lot more to do with taking what you have and making more than it is out of it.