Mourning childhood vs. wanting to grow up

I’ve never once wished to return to childhood. That’s not to say my childhood as a whole was bad, though I had my share of traumas. But mostly, I couldn’t wait to grow up.

I marked life by a series of milestones that I couldn’t wait to reach. First was turning ten because that meant I was finally in the double digits; then 13 because it meant I was finally a teenager. So on with 16, 18, and 21. But never at any point did I wish I could turn back the clock and be younger again.

In fact, there’s never really been a point in my life that I felt nostalgic about or wished to relive. That’s not in any kind of negative way, either; rather it’s a relative contentment about each present life stage while I’m in it.

However, that’s also not to say that I wouldn’t change anything and have made different decisions along the way, if I had the foresight of what I know now. I seriously wished I could have undone the decision to move back to Michigan, though. I was unhappy there and still believe, now that I’m back here, that I never should have left here.

I actually find it kind of sad when people are nostalgic for their childhood or try to recapture their youth. For one thing, if you’re always looking back at the past with nostalgia, it means that you’re missing the potential joy in the present. For another thing, how sad is it if you feel like your life peaked 30 years ago? How can you grow forward from there, if you’re stuck in a state of perpetual yearning for childhood and adolescence?

Childhood for me was not a carefree time in which my every wish was granted. Instead, it was a time when I mostly felt like decisions were being made for me by the adults in my life and I didn’t have much power to change that. And what that did was make me wish to be the grownup myself, free to decide what I ate for dinner and when I went to bed. Having that freedom now is not something I take for granted. The only things I really miss about childhood were not having to pay bills and not having MS yet.

I didn’t try to do things differently for my own kids, either. I wanted them to have more fun than I did but I also didn’t want to let them call all the shots. They still needed to learn the skills that would make them functional adults. As a result, they also grew up with the desire to become the grownups themselves. I think that’s how life is supposed to be: always with a reason to look forward to what’s next.

Similarly, I’m at an age where I’m officially really middle-aged and I can’t pretend otherwise. Even if I still had a body size that my daughter and I could share clothes, I feel like I would look kinda pathetic if I did, like an adult cosplaying as a college kid. Nobody would take me seriously if I looked like I was trying to be 25 years younger than I am.

And increasingly, I’m okay with that. I’m happy to hand over the crown of youth to the people who are still young. They deserve it and it’s one of the few consolation prizes of being that age, with all of its uncertainties and struggles. It’s not my turn anymore and I’m not clutching on to my place in the spotlight, refusing to relinquish it to the ones who deserve it.

It’s true that there aren’t many good models of what it’s like to be a woman in her 40s anymore. There was a clear distinction when I was growing up between a child and an adult. A woman in her 40s was usually married but not frumpy. She didn’t take shit from anyone, least of all her children, and she was given deference by kids if for no other reason than because she was a real grownup. It wasn’t an insult to be called Mrs. X by your kids’ friends. (None of which is to deny the very real ways in which women were and still are otherwise discriminated against.)

But now, I think society has created this false dichotomy: either you’re young and sexy or old and frumpy. And of course the model of old and frumpy is far less appealing. The idea of being a real grownup is no longer worthy of respect in its own right anymore. But I think there’s a third way: accepting our age and showing that women our age can be beautiful and sexy without trying to erase the fact that we’ve had kids and greater life experience. To some degree, I still define for myself what this age looks like. I still primarily wear t-shirts and jeans and I refuse to take out the nose ring that I’ve had for 15 years.

I don’t want to erase anything that shows the sign of my age, though, not even my sprinklings of gray hair. Instead, I want to present myself exactly as I am and defy the stereotypes. I worked hard for this wisdom. I worked hard to be taken seriously. And whether it’s being wistful for my childhood or pretending to be 25 years younger, I’m really happy to be where I am now instead of pining for the past.

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