When I was little, my friend Flora and I would clop clop clop around the house wearing high heeled shoes – her mother’s, or the purple sparkly plastic ones she had from Woolworth’s on her second or third Christmas. And a bit older, we’d pretend to ‘smoke’ lolly sticks. I remember asking for a ‘squeeze-your-knees-together’ skirt for my sixth Christmas – a pencil skirt, I suppose – wanting to look like a grown-up. Because despite not wanting to stop playing, and despite wanting to never have to do boring grown-up things like go to work or tidy up all the time or do the washing up, despite being also sort of scared of being a grown-up and living on your own, all you want as a child is to no longer be a child because it’s embarrassing and confusing and when you’re a grown-up you’ll know everything and you’ll be cool at last. All you want is to be a grown-up.
And by the age of about fifteen-and-three-quarters, I thought I’d made it. I had boobs, or rather, I’d accepted I probably was never going to have boobs so I had chicken fillets and padded bras and could now wear the low-cut tops that had looked ridiculous on me every time I tried them on for years. My period had (finally) started. I understood about love and relationships and it was clearly only a matter of time before so-and-so worked out how he really felt about me and boys fancied me and I had the pick of the bunch of them and I enjoyed drinking and smoked weed because it made me look interesting.
But a year on, I could see I hadn’t been grown-up then, so maybe I was now. But a year later I was ashamed of my sixteen-year-old self, and I realised at last that actually, for at least a few more years, I would have grown up a bit more every year, perhaps until I was about twenty or twenty-one, because I wouldn’t be a teenager any more by then and I’d probably look good in lipstick and I’d be a student and I’d be living away from home.
Now I’m not a teenager and I live away from home and I’m a student. I do look good in lipstick, I finally own my own clip-clop shoes and have been known to smoke more than just lolly sticks, I still can’t hold my drink, but I don’t enjoy getting too drunk so much as I used to. I can cook, clean and iron, and those kinds of boring grown-up jobs don’t bore me so much any more. You just get on with them. I have a job (at least occasionally), I have responsibilities, I have debts and bills to pay, I like picking out home furnishings, and if little children point me out in the street for whatever reason, they talk about ‘that lady’. I have a boyfriend, with a salary and a car, who goes to work wearing a tie. I empathise more with adults than with children whereas even a couple of years ago I’d be happier playing with three-year-olds at family events rather than talking to relations I don’t necessarily remember about politics or Ireland or something.
So yes, apparently, I’m a grown-up too. If only because, really, I finally realise that no-one else has it any more figured out than I do. I do actually feel a lot more mature these days – I don’t so often get that feeling in conversation with people of my parents generation that I’m being a whiny and self-obsessed adolescent; I like being responsible and organised (at last) rather than actively aspiring to be a bit of a train-wreck; and I don’t feel a million years younger than my twenty-something cousins. But rather than me catching up with the adults, it’s more that I’ve realised they’re not so many steps ahead of me after all.