Thursday, December 12

Conquering childhood fears single-handedly


Thursday, April 25, 1996

Monsters beware; she’s proudly entering adulthood

When do you really become an adult? Is it when you’re 18, armed
with the right to vote? Or is it when you’re 21, having finally
gained admittance to that mysterious world of legal alcohol? Or is
it when you go away to college? When you graduate from college?
When you move away from home?

When I went home the weekend before my 18th birthday, my friend
Joe told me I was getting old. I looked at him strangely for a
minute as I considered. "No?" he asked lightly. Of course, I
realized he wasn’t completely serious (after all, he is nearing
30). But his casual statement really made me think. Was I, in fact,
old? Had I truly and irrevocably put my childhood behind me?

Now, I think that he might be right. Despite my fascination with
Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m certainly more of an adult than a child. But
still, I can’t get over the realization that, at 18, I’m really
very young. How do we know when we’ve crossed that intangible
barrier between childhood and adulthood? Is there any foolproof way
to tell?

Well, one thing is for sure; adulthood has to be about more than
age. Birthdays don’t make you an adult. No, it’s something else.
Adulthood is about self-sufficiency and being able to take care of
yourself. It’s about overcoming your apprehensions, about
overcoming obstacles. After all, it doesn’t really matter if you’re
afraid. The only thing that matters is that you don’t let fear
become a hindrance.

When you’re an adult, you try not to let fear stop you from
making decisions ­ because adulthood requires that you make
decisions. Even when you ask for help, you’re the one deciding, the
person in control. You’re responsible.

Responsibility ­ that’s the scary part, especially when
you’re in college. Because it’s in college that you wake up one
night, absolutely and completely panic-stricken, with the
realization that you can never really go back. Even if you shut
your eyes and count to 10, you’re never going to be a child again.
This time, grape-flavored cough syrup isn’t going to make it all
better. This is a bruise that a Sesame Street Band-Aid just can’t
heal.

It must be some kind of eternal paradox that children want to
grow up and adults long for the past. When you’re an adult, you
spend so much time wishing that you could just rewind back through
all the years. You think you could be forever happy living out the
rest of your life at age 5 ­ when your worries were countered
by nap time and recess, when you had faith in all your creations.
The creations that your mom taped up on the refrigerator door and
were made of paper plates, construction paper and school glue.

Oh, to be 5 years old again. When things could still be magic
and you were crazily in love with all the world. When you didn’t
understand the concepts of hate and war. When things like race,
creed and color barely made sense to you. Back then, you were
automatically sheltered. Things didn’t have to make sense. There
was so much time to sort everything out.

At 5, you didn’t need to make decisions. Not really. After all,
that’s what your parents were for. They made decisions for you and
in return you thought them all-powerful. You believed in them. They
could beat Darth Vader and the evil Skeletor hands down. They were
almighty, omnipotent. The reason you asked them so many questions
(first and foremost the yet-unanswered, "Why?") was because you
thought they knew everything.

And what about that? What about the power that children ascribe
to every adult? What about all that knowledge? There must be
something in that. Think of all the decisions you can make now that
you couldn’t at age 5. They aren’t all scary. Besides, you can
certainly go to bed later now. And you have the power to fight and
conquer the monsters in the closet and under the bed.

Maybe, then, adulthood is somewhat of a victory. You got through
childhood. You survived. You mastered long division and finally
learned how to spell. So, you can’t order off the kids’ menu
anymore. So what?

What you have to remember when you’re ready to cast all the
trappings of adult life aside is that childhood was never a purely
romantic experience. There were ear infections and chicken pox,
martinet yard duties and hot lunch lines. There were skinned knees,
failed science projects and way too much mud.

As for me, I remember the painful loneliness after my best
friends kept moving away. Four of them. One after the other. All in
a row. I was convinced that I must be personally responsible. I was
convinced that I would never, ever, make a lasting friendship.

I also remember James Howard who terrorized us from second grade
until sixth. And Ryan Lynch who once found a bag of extra long
rubber bands and started using me for target practice. I laugh now,
but it certainly wasn’t funny then.

But now it’s all in the past, and here I am; eighteen years old
and at the brink of adulthood. It’s strange to think that some
people might envy me. After all, I have so much ahead of me. But
I’m not unaware of what I’ve left behind­ the good things, as
well as the bad. I regret a little that I had to grow up, to move
on. And sometimes I’m scared at what’s to come. I can’t let these
fears and regrets stop me, though. There’s just no time.

I have too many decisions to make. I have too many things to do.
Watch out all you monsters in the closet. Here I come.

Kotadia is a first-year biology student. Her column appears on
alternate Fridays.

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