Let’s Never Grow Up

This year, I turn twenty. That is so strange to me. Twenty seems like it should be some kind of cut-off point. You’re no longer a teenager at twenty. It’s the age when you’re expected to start putting your teenage tendencies behind you and try to act like an adult. Legally in the UK, you become an adult at eighteen, although most of us seem to think that we’re adults on our sixteenth birthdays. The truth is, we’re not. We’re only pretending.

At nineteen, we’re more like adults-in-training than real, proper, responsibility-having adults. I mean, yes, we have responsibilities but everything that we need to worry about is still way ahead in the future. We’re only tasting freedom. Especially us students – it’s all just practise. All of the Big Things – getting our own house, having a career, kids, marriage – for most of us, are things that might happen eventually but not right now, so we don’t have to think about it. Some of us might have our own houses already. A lot of us have jobs, and most people will be at least thinking about what career they want to work in. Some nineteen year olds might even have kids or be married, or both, but in my experience for the most part, we’re still only practising.

Some people disagree. When I’ve voiced this opinion before, I’ve been told firmly that no, I am definitely an adult, there’s no getting away from it. Yes. Legally, I am definitely, absolutely, no question about it, an adult. But I don’t feel like one, and I don’t think I will for a long time yet. I’m still learning. I’m still figuring everything out. All of the things that people tell you your teenage years are for, I’m still working on now.

For example, I don’t know what I want to do in my future. I know that there are some things I want out of life, like a career that involves writing, and way, way in the future, I want to be a mum. But other than that, I don’t have a clue. I’m at university. I’m on a very industry-specific course. There are people who expect me to have chosen a path by now and be working on getting to my chosen destination, but I think I’d prefer to go on an adventure and explore all of the beautiful places I could go before I decide where to spend the rest of my life. There are so many options out there, and I change my mind all the time. I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of that. The only thing that’s been a constant love of mine forever is writing.

And I still don’t know who I am yet, but I don’t think anyone does, really. I know some things about myself but they are prone to change every now and then, and the person I thought I was yesterday might be a completely different person to who I feel like today. We might broadcast one or two versions of ourselves to the world, but we’re not that person all the time. We act different ways with different people. If you could see yourself with your friends, your family, and when you’re on your own, how do you know which version of you is the real you? They all are. We’re not just one person; we’re many. We’re all growing as people with every passing day, and we learn more and more about ourselves as the days go on.

As well as that, while all of the high-flying drama that seems to thrive in the air around teenagers might be over, my life is still riddled with worries and conflicts and problems, just like everyone’s. I’ve had my fair share of teenage drama in the past. My story is really not that different to everyone else’s, except that I went to a peculiar little school in the countryside where we had to do compulsory Eurythmy every week and participated in Michaelmas festivals where we dressed up as a dragon and pretend to be slain. But even then, I know at least nine other people who have those same tales to tell. (By the way, if you don’t know what Eurythmy is, it involves robes, cloth shoes, and gracefully waving your arms in the air as you float around the room. No, seriously.) I’m more than relieved that that period of my life, when every little thing was huge crisis and I was shrouded in a dangerous lack of self-confidence, is over. But even so, there have still been dramas in my life recently that make all of that angst look like nothing.

My point here is that while I might be leaving my teens behind at the end of this year, that doesn’t automatically make me an adult. I won’t suddenly start reading the newspaper every morning, fretting about bills, and tutting at childish things like believing in magic. The truth is, the news scares me and so does money, and I would happily believe in magic for the rest of my life if I could.

I think that we carry our teenage years with us through our entire lives. We might get to ninety and look at ourselves, and still find that struggling, confidence-lacking, angst-ridden version of ourselves shining through in some way. That’s not a bad thing. It just means that, even when we’re old and have seen everything there is to see, we’ll still be learning and growing every day.

I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t have a clue where all of those winding paths up ahead will lead me. And that’s great. I don’t want to.

Let’s just not grow up. Of course, let’s keep aging and experiencing and learning, but let’s just stay the same as we are right now – expectant and excited for things to come. Let’s remain wide-eyed and hopeful like children on Christmas Eve. Let’s keep having fun and finding sparkles in shadows, and never knowing what’s around the corner. Let’s live for now, like we did yesterday.

 

Below are some carefully selected images of me throughout my teen years, from the age of 14.

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Lost Girl

I am obsessed with Peter Pan, and it’s not just because I have a crush on Robbie Kay who played him on Once Upon A Time. It is the entire concept of Neverland. The conflicts between childhood and adulthood, dreams and reality, innocence and corruption, and freedom and responsibility resonate with me more than they ever did before.

As I am reaching my eighteenth birthday, it might seem silly to some people that I’m so attracted to a fairytale. Truthfully, the story of Peter and Wendy never interested me much when I was younger. It’s only now that I’m approaching uni and have to think about earning money that I really understand what it’s all about.

In the early 1900s when JM Barrie wrote the play ‘Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’, childhood was cut short very early. The ages of the characters are never specifically stated in either the play or novel, but Peter is described as still having all of his baby teeth, and Wendy is just his height. Nowadays, childhood seems to stretch on for as long as possible. In early adolescence, children seem desperate to grow up, unlike Wendy.

Now, at seventeen going on eighteen, I find myself torn between wanting to live my own life in my own house, earning my own money. But, at the same time, the thought of all that independence terrifies me and all I want to do is crawl back into my childhood and hide there forever. Maybe that’s why I love the idea of Neverland so much.

Can you imagine how wonderful it would be? Someone turns up on your windowsill and whisks you away on an adventure full of more excitement and happiness than you have experienced in your entire life. Unfortunately, there are laws against that kind of thing now.

But at the end of the day, Wendy makes the ultimate decision and says goodbye to Peter, returning home with her brothers to face the inevitable challenge of growing-up, a feat that Peter was never able to accomplish. And it is so sad. The novel depicts the sadness of it much more than the Disney film.

Peter promises to return every year to take Wendy back to Neverland so that he would never forget her. But he does. Because time doesn’t work the same in Neverland, and although he holds to his promise for a couple of years, he soon leaves her for many years. In that time, Wendy gets married and has a daughter. Then, one night, Peter returns to take Wendy (or whom he believes to be Wendy) back to Neverland for her annual visit. And so occurs one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking scenes that I have ever read. Wendy wakes from her chair in the shadows in the corner of the room and sees Peter standing over her daughter’s bed. Peter cheerfully explains that he’s returned after a year to take her away, and Wendy says that it has been longer than that. It has been years. And slowly, Wendy emerges from the shadows and Peter recoils. She’s all grown-up. In the end, Peter takes her daughter to Neverland, and then her granddaughter, and so on. But he always forgets them.

If that hasn’t tugged on your heartstrings enough, then maybe this piece of information will. JM Barrie grew up with seven siblings. When he was six, his fourteen-year-old brother, David, died. His mother was so devastated that Barrie tried to fill his brother’s place by acting like him and wearing his clothes. In Margaret Oglivy (1896), Barrie described a moment when his mother saw him and asked, “Is that you?”, to which he replied in a small voice, “No, it’s no’ him, it’s just me”. He said that his mother took comfort in the fact that David would remain a boy forever and never have to face the horrors of growing-up and difficulties of adulthood.

This adds a whole new side to Peter Pan, who clearly has similarities to Barrie’s brother. The idea that Peter leads other little ‘lost boys’ to the place where they never have to grow up suggests that Peter makes it easier for dying children to move on. It is a sad but oddly comforting idea.

Peter Pan clearly has many layers and themes that are not as obvious as we thought. It is about more than just the struggle of growing-up; it is about the more complex ideas of life, death and love.

I strongly recommend that you read JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. Barrie writes in an imaginative style that is completely unique to him. His use of often surreal imagery creates an atmosphere that you can just lose yourself in. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

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On a different note, my dad now has a blog in which he posts reviews of films, TV shows and books. You can visit it here.