Chloe discovered her shadow the other day. We took a full 20-minute break from what we were doing so she could dance around and watch it move. She was delighted. At one point, she turned to me and said, “In my shadow I get so big, but in your shadow you get small!” This was blatantly untrue; I was standing right next to her and my ginormous shadow dwarfed hers, but the thought that she was bigger than me made her so happy that I didn’t bother to point that out. Clearly her powers of imagination are developing faster than her powers of observation.
She’s becoming fairly obsessed with the idea of getting bigger, and being a big girl, and being much older than babies. Watching her dance around, I started thinking how much I wanted to be a grown-up when I was little. I was never quite old enough for what I wanted to do. I just needed to be a little bigger. And that led to me thinking about the fact that being older is nothing like I thought it would be. Nothing. The funniest part is, if I could go back and correct every misconception I had about getting older, it wouldn’t matter, because younger Erin wouldn’t freaking believe one word of it. Regardless:
My Letter to Younger Erin, Correcting Her Stupid/Naive Beliefs About Grown-Ups and Growing Up (Because These Are the Thoughts You Have as You Hurtle Toward Thirty):
Dear Little, Slightly Precocious, Usually Obnoxious, Erin:
You are never going to become a doctor. Hate to break it to you, kiddo. And it’s not because you’re not smart enough. But one day you’ll figure out you like some parts of school better than others, and that learning is only really fun when you care about the subject. As fate would have it, you’re not a big fan of science. Especially if it involves lab work. Especially if that involves taking detailed notes over long periods of time. Like a whole week. You’re not going to have much patience for that. You’ll still have to take science, of course. But you’ll spend most of your time writing songs about permanganate, and leaving hidden messages for future generations under the tiles in the lab. (BTW, they’re gonna remodel that school a couple of years after you leave, so that was a total waste of time.)
Grown-ups don’t know everything. They don’t even know everything they’re supposed to know. You’re going to figure this out about your parents pretty quickly (which will lead to years of strife and you not giving them credit for knowing anything, which is not so much fair, but nobody kills anybody and they still like you in the end.) Still, when you start to figure this out about the rest of the world, take deep breaths - it will be terrifying. Especially when you realize these people have been voting for decades. Everyone’s winging it. That blind trust you gave so freely as a child will be nearly impossible to muster up when you realize how many classes your pre-med friends slept through, and just how young your Kindergarten teacher actually was. Plus, your grown-ups don’t even have Google yet, so you can pretty much bet they’re raising you on old wives’ tales and hearsay.
Getting bigger hurts. It physically hurts. And not just because of growing pains and menstrual cramps, although NO ONE will adequately prepare you for the latter, so buckle up. It hurts because you have this crazy body that’s always changing. Just when you start to get comfortable, you’re going to hit a growth spurt, probably before the boys, just to make you feel extra awesome. And just when you think your body has chilled out, and you’re all done growing, it decides it’s time for the Freshman 15 or adult acne. Whee! Plus, you’re not going to become any less clumsy. You will sustain countless, humiliating, self-inflicted injuries. Get ready to nearly cut your thumb off, and fall down in the middle of the road and break your elbow, and get hit in the face with a basketball in PE class. And, the older you get, the longer it takes to heal. Also, you can forget about that idea that scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue, because someone said that in the 60’s and it turns out it’s a load of horse manure.
Nobody tells you when you’re done. You don’t unlock grown-up level just by playing the game long enough. There’s no badge, or card, or certificate. (In fact, when I start to think about how old our parents were when I thought they knew everything, I realize you are being raised by children. Don’t worry though, they do great.) You will hit a point when your birthdays don’t mean anything anymore, except getting closer to the ones everyone complains about it. There’s no birthday that makes you a grown-up. Certainly not 18, because you’re mostly an idiot then. Not 21, because you’re just a legal idiot then. And you don’t become a grown-up by getting a degree or having kids or getting a job or buying a house, because so many people you know have those things and are still kind of only mostly grown-ups. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. My best guess, at this point, is that you pretty much have to be older than everyone else in the world, and then it hits you: Oh hey, I totally grew up.
Don’t be sad about any of this. It’s probably a good thing you’re never quite going to feel like a grown-up. You’ll hit that point in your early twenties when you’ll think you are for two seconds, but that’ll pass, and every year you’ll realize you know less and less. Don’t freak out. It’s fantastic. You get to learn something new every day of your life. No one knows everything, but you get to start relying on other people in your life that know more about some things than you do. And you’ll Google things. And, yes, you’ll even call your mom or dad because it turns out they know things that Google doesn’t know. Not knowing everything doesn’t make you a fraud. It just makes you almost a grown-up.
Good luck. Godspeed. And seriously, if you can avoid that basketball to the face, do it. That’s going to be absolutely mortifying.