FOR AS long as I can remember I have hated birthdays. I cried the night before I turned 10, double digits, and pretty much every night before birthdays since. My new age fit me like an itchy sweater my mom made me try on at the mall. I want to be a kid forever.. and even though rotation around the sun brought me back to the same place, it made me feel lost.
I think my dread of birthdays all started when I came face to face with my mortality at age five. I was lounging around, humming a song from Hercules, while my dad was watching some Cosmos show. To my alarm, the narrator said that one day, the sun would expand, swallowing the earth up. My five year old brain was racing; we needed to get off earth before it was incinerated by the sun! I voiced my concerns to my dad, who said “Emma, you will be long gone by the time the sun swallows up the earth.”
GONE. What do you mean, GONE? You mean my years here are limited? My mom tried to comfort me and tell me that I was going to be able to be here for 100 years, but it kept me up for weeks. Each night I would lie in bed and quantify the years I had lived so far and the years I had left. Picturing pie graphs, with 5% already colored in and 95% left.
Then life went on and I perfected my backstroke down at the YMCA, read every Junie B Jones book, and had playdates on the weekends with my friends. Then March 8 would roll around again and those pie charts would come back into my mind, with more years I had lived colored in, making the piece of years I had left slightly smaller. And so it went, every year being able to forget that I was growing older until it was my birthday.
I do love celebrating life, celebrating existence. Opening presents and being with family and friends. But I can’t have my cake and stay the same age too. In the back of my mind birthdays meant I was marching on away from who I used to be, and towards someone I didn’t know yet. I was asked questions like “how does it feel to be so and so age” and it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how it felt yet to be my new age, I had just gotten the hang of my old age and now I get another year added to it. Coming to grips with the fact that this is the oldest I have ever been and yet the youngest I will ever be again.
But after I settle into my new age, I always seem to like where I am in the moment. When I was 17 I liked it better than being 16, and when I was 18 I liked it better than being 17. Right now turning 19, and next year turning 20 sounds entirely unappealing, but I’m sure when I get there that being 18 again will sound just as unappealing.
I don’t know 19 year old me yet but I think I will like her.
This past summer one of my best friends, Tiare, passed away. She will never get to age past 18 years old. This happened right before my move, and all of the letters from her were in a box somewhere between Vegas and Seattle. A month after she left, we finally got all the boxes and I tore through trying to find all of the random notes from her. Thankfully we did that type of thing often, leaving letters on each others first period desks or writing long verbose encouragement cards, so I have a lot of things from her. Some made me laugh, happy, cry, and mostly make me so thankful that I had met her. I had mentioned to her a number of times how much I hated growing up, and in about the fifth letter I read from her, she wrote “Remember not everyone has the privilege of growing up.”
That hit me so hard, and forever changed how I thought about getting older. Each year is a blessing. Each day is a blessing. I should stop focusing on the number and instead relish in how I can always stay young at heart. I have come to realize that each new year doesn’t mean that I cast my old self out, but add another layer of who I am. And underneath my 19 year old layer will always be the 16 year old who thought it was cool to wear two skirts on top of each other, and under that layer is the 7 year old who loves Spongebob, and under that layer is the 4 year old who is afraid of the dark. I am not growing old, I am just growing my 19 year old layer right now, and I am excited to see what else I will get to become.
“I see myself as the world’s oldest living teenager because I have such a good time and I try to get as much of a kick out of things as possible”
“I once heard someone say, “I shall die very young. How young? I don’t know. Maybe seventy, maybe eighty, maybe ninety. But I shall be very young.”