Being an adult means you can lick your plate and wear your socks outside; it means you don’t always have to eat your veges and you can stay up all night playing Nintendo; you can let the lawn grow indefinitely and, if you choose, you can even start incorporating swear words into your personal idioms. Being an adult is a move from dependence to independence, with which follows new freedoms.
But being an adult also means that if you hit a guy who’s being a dick, you’re not going to get in trouble from mum and dad but the fuzz won’t be too cool with it; you may get in a serious relationship and even marry (possibly allowing you to give up¹ a lot of the aforementioned freedoms, but for good reason); and of course you have to get a ‘job’ (which may be inextricably linked to getting a ‘haircut’) and you have to pay ‘taxes’… It’s a bitter-sweet symphony this life; trying to make end’s meet, you’re a slave to the money then you die. Or, I don’t care too much for money; money can’t buy me love. Pop music speaks the truth.
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In my twelfth or thirteenth year mum and dad decided that the home I’d spent most of my childhood in was a bit small so we needed to find another one. In the space of about a year I left the primary school I’d spent most of my life at, moved from my childhood home and suburb, my parents divorced and I forgot the meaning of happiness… (haha, I made that last bit up for its poetic import; there were still actually things to be happy with). My external circumstances forced me to move on from the securities and normalities of childhood, to face a world where big changes are the norm, a world where things won’t be the same forever.
But the loss of childhood wasn’t an instant transition; rather it was something that happened over many years, and to some extent is still happening now. Just a wee while ago, I finally realised that the James Bond movies which had aweinspired my kiddy-years were actually not that good. The stories were reasonably cliché, the acting was meh (bar Judy Dench) and the whole deal was lacking that key feature some of us call reality. A little bit further on I realised that though once Christmas had been all about presents, stuff didn’t matter so much to me any more. The once winkless Christmas Eve, dreaming of the infinite goods Santa would bring the next day became just another night, but emptier, in that I should be feeling this great excitement that just wasn’t there. Just on the side, this Christmas just been was probably one of the best Christmases ever (best ever!) as I was away from home for the first time and spent it with family I’d never met before.
But probably the most crushing coming-to-terms-with-coming-of-age for me was our family holiday spot, the Hurunui river. We used to all camp there when the parents and aunties and uncles had time off. The river was fast and dangerous, but there were awesome swimming holes and lots of walks to do around the farm, with so many things to discover like bullet shells, abandoned cars with 10c coins in the glovebox, pinecones, rabbits, beehives and sheep carcasses. But as I grew up, it was difficult to get the whole family off at one time. We returned to the river but all of our swimming holes had dried up. People, also, other people, had found out about the place and stolen our favourite spots. The following is a poem exploring this, using imagery from Banjo Kazooie, a Nintendo game I was attached to when I was younger:
I went back the other day,
padding through the sand
past a pool where we
used to swim, now
it comes up to your ankles.
Along a familiar track,
now overgrown with broom.
Although rotten or rusted,
the marimba is still there.
Remember that time we ran
through all the notes,
then climbed to the top
of the lighthouse
and dropped them all off the edge?
* * *
Life is the double embrace of things new and old. If we ignore everything new that comes up we become immature and incapable of living properly. Adulthood is our new childhood. Adulthood is a taking on of new things and claiming them again as a child; it is the creative childhood, that which creates its own childhood. Though there is greater responsibility up here, there is also greater freedom. I hate to sound all soppy-populist, there-is-some-simple-meaning-in-life-ish, but sometimes those experiences and ways of doing life which have defined us for a time need to be put aside so we can keep growing, so we can keep moving forward. Although sometimes we need to forget and move on, there is also value in holding onto those things ‘close to your heart’, which, like adulthood, are thrust upon you: when you’re cleaning some old boxes and trinkets from the past pop up, or taking the wrong sidestreet in a race through town happenchances you upon that old familiar street.
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¹I had here the words ‘possibly voiding a lot of the aforementioned freedoms…’ I think ‘allowing you to give up’ is more in keeping with the ideal of marriage.