Growing Older

 

 

Pamela Park October 30
©2015 Marta C Drew

 

When I think of childhood, I remember sitting on the jungle gym in my dad’s back yard with Betsy Burritt, poking straws into whole oranges to suck out the juice and pitching the rest over the fence until my dad caught us.

 

When I think of childhood, I picture the bubble lights on my dad’s Christmas tree, the bright pink, tart applesauce GramBea used to make with crabapples, the Anne Murray album my mom played while we dusted and changed the sheets on my sofa bed, and summers at Camp Lake Hubert.

 

And when I think of childhood, I think of a spot on the playground at Highlands Elementary School in 1981, where I faced two bright, charismatic, mean-spirited girls in my class:

 

“Does your mom have a boyfriend?” one of them asked, looking at the other and scrunching up her nose.

 

“Yes. Steve.” Voice steady, no tears, voice steady, no tears, voice steady, no tears. I chanted this in my head as I spoke, never doubting their right to an answer. I couldn’t walk away — I wasn’t allowed. Their power was absolute.

 

“I bet they’re humping right now.” Delighted with their audacity, secure in their unbroken, conventional families, they shrieked and giggled while I waited for the bell to ring and end this. Their mothers were at home, doing whatever their kind of mother did. Mine was downtown in her law office, probably humping her boyfriend. Because that was what divorced, working mothers did according to everyone in 1981.

 

And there it was: my child’s perception of the difference between kid and adult: I was at the mercy of my circumstances and she was fully in charge of hers.

 

Furious, wanting to punish her for my humiliation at school, I confronted my mom in our little one-bedroom apartment that night. “Do you and Steve Do It?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes, spitting out the words, waiting for hot tears of shame to slide down her cheeks. As they should.

 

But my mother was a self-actualized modern woman, not about to let her nine-year-old daughter degrade her. “Do you mean do we make love? Yes, we do,” she said, completely, horribly, unbearably at peace with her choices.

 

And there it was: my child’s perception of the difference between kid and adult: I was at the mercy of my circumstances and she was fully in charge of hers.

 

I think about that, now that I am ostensibly a grownup myself. I am not fully in charge of anything. The life choices I have so carefully made come with all kinds of circumstances that bring me to my knees. I am neither self-actualized nor modern by anyone’s standards and I am certainly not a grownup, because nobody should be. “Grownup” implies that the period of development is over, but growth is possible right up until the moment our souls leave the earth. We talk about childhood in terms of growing and adulthood in terms of aging, but aging is just change on the world’s terms. Growth is change on ours. Any child, under the wrong conditions, can age and any adult, under the right ones, can grow.

 

There were at least two more years after that scene on the playground of chasing the mean girls, begging for their friendship, trying to buy their favor with gifts and loyalty they hadn’t earned, inviting them to parties without getting invited back, selling out my true friends, before I finally began to grow out of that. Until then, I was only aging.

 

Even now, having just turned 43, I catch myself getting intimidated sometimes by the mean kids. I still have a hard time in the company of certain people, keeping my voice steady and my tears in check. But then I remember I don’t have to answer to those who want to hurt me for sport. I remember that I am allowed to walk away. I am not a grownup, but I’m growing.

 

When I was little, I watched the adults around me and pieced together an idea of life as a full-grown person: I would stay up late eating M&Ms and watching T.V. like my dad; I would work in an office and attend orchestra concerts every weekend like my mom; I would play tennis down at the park like Grandma and Grandpa Thacher and host big, wonderfully loud Christmas dinners; I would sit quietly in my den at night like Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek and pare an apple,  the peel falling in one long, whole, vivid spiral from their sure hands. That was my idea of how to be a grownup.

 

I am not a grownup, but I am not a child, either. I still carry the weight of my circumstances, but I carry it better. I carry it smarter.

 

Of course my perception changed as I grew. The benefits of adulthood evolved in my mind from eating M&Ms and playing tennis to living in my own space and choosing the people in it. Growing older stopped being about perks and started being about power. Year by year, I claimed  more of a say in how I spent my time and with whom. I dropped clarinet and started singing. I let go of friends who consistently hurt me, even if it meant being alone. I stopped begging for love from boys or men who didn’t freely offer it. There is still meanness to confront, both in myself and in others. People will die, blessings will come and go, mistakes will be made, but as long as I am growing, none of it can degrade me.

 

I am not a grownup, but I am not a child, either. I still carry the weight of my circumstances, but I carry it better. I carry it smarter. I know what friendship is supposed to feel like and I know how to make decisions I can live with, even if I’m never really at peace with my choices and even if I’m never fully in charge.

 

An adult, according to most definitions, is someone fully grown and developed. If that is true, then let me become one only when my life is over. Until then, let me grow older. Let me keep the oranges and bubble lights, the applesauce, music, and summers at camp. Let me cast off the weight of powerlessness. Let me not age but keep growing, find peace with my choices, until my life is done and falls in one long, whole, vivid spiral from my sure hands.

 

18 thoughts on “Growing Older

  1. I was on my own playground hearing two boys tell me I was a bastard in 1982, so I know the pain. And the pain of not being privy to the crowd I so desperately wanted. I still struggle with that but I am okay with myself. Again, you have told a beautiful story (because memoir sounds so…serious…) and connected to my being. Thank you. Thank you for writing again.

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  2. “We talk about childhood in terms of growing and adulthood in terms of aging, but aging is just change on the world’s terms. Growth is change on ours. Any child, under the wrong conditions, can age and any adult, under the right ones, can grow.” THIS. A thousand times, this. What a gift to receive notice of your new posts in my inbox. I am among many who are thrilled to have Gypsy Hausfrau back online. XOXOXO

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  3. Thanks, Marta! This is all so true, sad and enlightening at the same time. My heart breaks as I see my own kids dealing with these situations without the strength they have yet to gain. I look forward to reading your future posts, your words are beautiful.

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  4. Love that you’re writing, dear Friend! And this was magnificent! Play all the damn Candy Crush you want; you’ll get no crap from me. [platonic] smooches!

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  5. Marta, this essay is simply wonderful! It will serve as my new favorite birthday gift – even to people my age. It is true, no one ever really grows up – so why do bother to try? Beginning today, I am no longer aging – just growing. Happy New Year, Brilliant writer!

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