I feel like a New Year should symbolize something bold and brilliant; it should be some sort of clear signpost aligned with a major life change. I am graduating from college this May, so I guess that signifies something. But nonetheless, I feel damp; cold; stagnant. It’s not that I’m not excited about graduating, or that I regret 2010 (quite the opposite; it was a joyful year). It’s that the overwhelming characteristic of my emotional landscape right now is fear.
I have a tendency towards anxiety in general (I believe it is often associated with depression), but it has never been particularly associated with the changing of years or the passing of time. As a child and adolescent, I was so unbelievably eager to grow up that sometimes I felt as though I might explode from waiting. And there are many pleasures of adulthood: romantic love and sex, of course, but also things like living on your own, exploring new places without constraints or boundaries, and choosing the life that you want to live, in terms of education, career, friends, lovers, location, etc. There is an exhausting number of variables.
More than anything, I felt my childhood crumble away in late 2010. I had a similar feeling in late winter of 2009, just about two years ago. You can read my essay about that here. Maybe there are a series of sudden moments or realizations or overcomings that signify the end of childhood. Maybe this is one of the moments in that series. But it still feels too sudden, too painful. From the time I was about 12, I had the skills to take care of myself. Granted, I was not an emotionally sound adolescent, but I was remarkably good at cooking, getting myself to and from places, and keeping track of events (gymnastics meets, doctor’s appointments, school concerts). I don’t remember thinking of myself as a kid past the time I was 11 or 12.
And now I’m 21 and I’ll be 22 later this year and it’s too late to go back. I want to at least stop time, if I can’t go back. But I’m not allowed to do that either. For the first time in a decade, I don’t want to grow up. I want to stay the same. I want to play outside with my cousins. I want to catch minnows in the summer in glass jars. I want to build intricate snowmen in the winter and not worry about how many calories are in the elephant ear I’m eating. I want my mother to live with me and make me pad thai or spaghetti with meatballs. I don’t want to take planes and trains and buses by myself.
Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I see 2009 and 2010 as the last years of my childhood. In May, I will graduate from an Ivy League university with absolutely no clue what I want to do in this world. I will probably delay the inevitable entrance to the real world by travelling and going to law school. And maybe I will eventually do something that’s sort of un-adult, like teach kid’s dance lessons or be a nanny. But my little safe cocoon of late adolescence is peeling away. Soon, I’m going to have to do things like pay bills and taxes and apply for grown-up jobs.
So that’s the fear and the anxiety that I am feeling. But as I write this, I’m beginning to feel a spark of some other feeling: it’s not exactly joy or excitement. Maybe possibility? Or curiosity? Or calm? There are wonderful parts about being a grown up. And I have a feeling that I will always be the sort of grown up who doesn’t think twice about wearing colorful mittens or sifting for shiny seashells at the beach. So maybe 2009 and 2010 do signify the terminal point of my childhood. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The very end of this year (the second half of December), which I spent with no less than 27.5 relatives from my mother’s side of the family, was rough. But I think that it makes sense: I was acting out in ways that a seven year old might. I alternated between fits of misbehavior and moments of deep, deep sadness. I think somewhere inside, I knew that this was not just the ending of a year, but the ending of an important segment of my life. Maybe I was trying to delay the onset of 2011. I will admit that midnight, January 1, took me by surprise. I was sitting on a couch with my favorite aunt and uncle. We didn’t notice until it was about 12:03. We promptly went to bed.
In 2011, I do not want to be a misbehaving girl any more. I want to be a real woman. This, of course, is probably dangerously undefined, but that’s how I want it to be. I think that my transition to womanhood began a long time ago. USB probably sped things up, and then my 21st year ended and I was nudged over the edge. In this next year, I wish to move away from the child who had to do everything she could to take care of herself and thus grew up too quickly. I will never leave her behind; that girl is a big part of who I am and how I am today. Instead, I want to move closer towards the bright, collected, exuberant young woman that I want to be.
Over the next few days, I will begin to compile a list of ways in which I intend to become such a woman. If it is blog-appropriate, I will most definitely share. I am not sure they will be resolutions, per se — I strongly dislike the pressure of a resolution. More like ideas. Let’s call them ideas. Stay tuned!
What did 2010 signify for you? How will 2011 be different? What are you favorite parts about being a grown up? About being a child?