Growing up is hard to do

August 01,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Kids are good at wishing away the days. All young people are, I think. Lately L. spends his off-computer time pacing around in circles in his room, thinking about the day he'll be thirteen, and able to play a video game rated "Teen" that he has his eye on. T. talks about being a teenager some day, like the big girls at the pool, and her face lights up with a strange, pleased smile, as if she can scarcely imagine that day. 

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," I'll tell L. when he talks about thirteen. Because I don't want him to be thirteen--not yet. I don't want to spend too much time thinking about T., long-legged and gigging, circling the pool with her friends, talking teenage talk, making teenage plans. 

Teenage plans.

I've been thinking about the last time I wished away time like that. It was the summer before I met Scott, and the last time I traveled to Greece as a single person alone, just me, my twenty-four year old self. I had spent the year before growing my hair long and it was down past my shoulders. My sister and I shared a room in the little mountain house my parents had recently bought--a family investment, a place we could return to year after year. I was restless that summer. We'd make our way from the stone house across the small village in pitch black, our flashlights only strong enough to illuminate about a foot in front of us. We were headed to the big renovated farmhouse at the basin of a small valley, where some Greek friends of my parents lived in the summer. There, with no light around for miles, you could stretch out on the hood of one of the cars and see stars forever. If you fixed your eyes only on the sky you could actually feel the darkness pressing in on you, and your body carved out of it. The darkness had weight, and form. I would feel awed in front of it, but also small and insignificant and alone. 

I wish I had lived more wholly in those moments: the stumbling walk in the dark across the rocky path, the stars, the laughter coming from the house, lying in the dark in the narrow twin bed I slept in at night, my long hair fanned across the pillow, whispering talk with my sister, waking at dawn to the roosters crowing and the smell of coffee. Instead I wished away those times. I wanted to be older. I wanted to be in love. I wanted my life to be in order and the shapeless meandering days of that summer frustrated me. I wanted to fast-forward it all. I didn't know that so much would change, or that I'd cut my hair short that fall; that I'd meet Scott in the winter and that falling in love would be a crazy-happy time, so literally a fall away from so much, but toward so much more.

You don't have to grow much older before you realize that life is filled with those types of necessary losses. I'm not sad that so much changed. But I have always been hyper-aware, since that summer, that it did.