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Growing Up and Looking Back

by Kim Neiland 

Growing up is tough. Losing some semblance of self is unnerving. You can feel traces of who you were yet it will fade. Posed with a plethora of new information, faces, and surroundings, It’s an uncomfortable and awkward time in anyone’s life. When you’re young, moments are magic. I remember reading ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I was younger, completely spellbound by the concept of a secret garden. Where are such places I’d implore! Put that down on the Christmas list! There’s nothing quite like finding something you love. The best kind of love transcends time. It’s that distinct naivete that we see so often in kids which can vanish as they get older. When you must ‘grow up’, so to speak. 

I’ve never liked that term. Yes, absolutely, there is a time for stepping up and taking responsibility. Yet there is also a time for letting loose and being spontaneous, for retaining childlike whims. When you’re young you should be allowed to be young. Nowadays kids invariably feel enormous pressure to be influencers by 15. You must be a child prodigy. Or else you’re nothing. Or else all you’ll ever be is, fearfully, like everyone else – ordinary. You’re never ordinary if someone loves you. It’s only when you get older that you realize what a privilege that is, and how it feels to give some of it back.

There is an age-old notion that what you do in your spare time is what you should dedicate your life to, largely stemming from what you pursued as a child. Do I believe that? Absolutely. Is it realistic? Absolutely not. You must consider social structures, income, education – the classic stereotypes. We live and die by labels. They make us feel safe. It’s that sense of safety that draws harsh lines. Children are malleable and hatred is learned. You may hear of career guidance counsellors steering teenagers down traditional career paths. Can you blame them? I would never want to be 18 years old again and faced with existential questions of who I am and what I want to do. Yet here I am, on the brink of 23, still desperately unsure of what it all means, or who I am within it. I’m merely litmus testing my options and hoping for the best. That restlessness – the tension between who you are and who you’ll become can be harrowing at times. So in times of despair, you revert back, comb back through the memories and find what sticks. Naturally what you like or dislike will shift over time. Yet there are always a few things that take precedence. One’s love of sports and a particular soccer team. Clinging to a particular tv series, it functions almost as a metaphorical comfort blanket. Who you were will level with who you are and who will become. When I was younger I couldn’t wait to be older. I felt, and still do feel, like an old woman trapped inside a young person’s body. Yet I never lost sight of time – how fickle and lucrative it is, and how we all want just a little bit more. I’ve documented every minor detail from as far back as I can remember, living in fear that one day, inevitably, I’ll forget. 

So, what is my point in all this? Why the great urge for pandering about growing up? I think there is something to be said for looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. I think if you don’t tackle something that haunted you as a child it festers far too long, inevitably affecting your friendships, your relationships, and, well, everything. If you lost a loved one at a young age you may try to fill the hole they left behind. If you were wronged that sense of rage and annoyance may never leave you. It hurts because it matters. It sticks because it’s shaped you as a person. When you were young what did you really want? To be happy. Amidst the constant pressures of surviving and thriving in society, it’s easy to lose sight of that. Personally, I live in a perpetual state of amazement at the level of satisfaction I get from playing my guitar. I marvel at how listening to Fleetwood Mac puts me at ease. I relish time spent devouring new books and interesting articles. It tethers me to the world and to those around me. It gives me hope. It all stems from what I loved growing up. Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m miserable. When I am sad, I try to think of that little girl somewhere inside of me whose sole purpose was having her own secret garden. I’ve always looked back. I still do. I hope I’m better because of it.