When I grow up, I want to be who I once was.
I want to be the child who couldn’t wait to sleep because she was so ecstatic about what the next morning would give her. Every new day came in a glittering package that she could hardly wait to unwrap. She was a girl who didn’t care if her tight curls caught in a tree while running from her brother; she kept running, belly-laughing all the way. She pretended she was a true lioness prowling in the forest, not a girl in a plaid purple uniform on her knobby knees in the dirt. That chlid was so excited about life that she could hardly keep herself from singing to the sun every morning, from joining the birds in their soaring. The future was something she never thought would arrive, as I'm sure many of you can relate to. High school was a mirage that I could vaguely see in the distance but always assumed I would never actually grasp. I used to envision myself looking something like Sharpay at this point (spoiler alert—I don't). Most of us presumed we'd be young forever.
I don’t know when it started getting difficult to wake up. I shrugged it off as a typical symptom of being a teenager, but I soon realized that no matter how much sleep I got, I didn’t really want to get up. And it terrified me.
When did my childhood end? I'm wondering that right alongside you. I presume it ended when I told myself that it was over. It ended the first time in middle school or high school that I started a story with, “When I was a kid, I…”
I ended it myself.
I ended it when I started eavesdropping outside of my own little world, turning an ear to the television. I'd only ever watched a few TV shows with real actors; most of the time I was invested in cartoons. Actual people on screens just didn’t interest me—they seemed too limited. Eventually, after elementary school, they became hard to avoid, whether they were on the screens at someone else’s house or a tiny phone screen at school. They told me about success and money and beauty and fame and being SOMEONE in this big, big world. Don’t you just want to be someone, Brooke?
I was soon half-convinced that I did want to embark on this quest of growing up, becoming someone, and finding myself. It sounded to me like I hadn't found myself yet. Even though truly, it was as a child when I was the most immersed in my true self.
As a little girl, my life experience was doused in simplicity (and I am blessed to say so). For those of us who have this gift, why do we let go of it?
I don't know many people who have grown up and been happy about it. The freedoms are nice, but they come with weighty mental, emotional, and occupational responsibilities that young minds simply cannot understand—all they see is ability, ability, ability. As you get older, you learn that your ability is sometimes crushed by the gravity of responsibility.
When you make it to my age, you have a premonition that maybe, most of your worry-free days are behind you.
When you get to 17, you're aware that you'll soon be pioneering into heavy, uncharted territory.
So, tell me why we put our feet on the gas and fly forward at full speed?!
Parents tell us to stop growing up all the time; we shake our heads and give them a little laugh, and continue doing whatever adult-like that thing elicited the comment. Because we can't free ourselves from the forward-moving tide of time.
While we can't turn back time or reverse the maturation of our minds, (that's actually a good thing in most ways) I'm a firm believer that we can be children again. We can be amazed at the world around us if we just looked deeper, not shallower as we sometimes think our childlike selves do. We can live in excitement if we allow ourselves to meditate on the wonders shining through simple things, the most beautiful of all. We can look at people with love and a desire for connection rather than status or looks.
My child doesn’t care how things look. She doesn’t need everything to be perfectly in line, perfectly in order. She doesn’t need to know what she’s doing tomorrow—she laughs happily when the morning gives her the gift of the day in a bow. She doesn’t care about impressing anyone. She lives in the perfect blend of fiction and the beauty of reality. She combines the most beautiful parts of Earth with the most beautiful flavors of her imagination. I’ve missed out on beautiful things and present imaginations because I was so wrapped up in thinking about my "future myself" like she was more important than who I was then.
I feel like we’re rushed to figure out who we are. Many of us come to hasty conclusions that don’t encapsulate the entirety of our being just to satisfy our parents, our coaches, our teachers, our siblings, our friends and ourselves. Sometimes, we do present a picture to the world and they reject it; it's not big enough, bold enough, drastic enough for them. As we grow up, life is blurry. We made a decision in high school and we think that we have to stick to it for the rest of our lives. We’re always growing. We can’t stick to a rushed definition; I don’t believe we can stick to many definitions at all. I believe that there is a paradox to us humans: there is so much more within us than we could ever comprehend, recognize, and feel, yet in all of our richness we are mentally and emotional barred from ever really getting the whole picture. The thought of summing myself up is daunting and kind of counterproductive to me. This might not be true for you, but I've always felt the most alive when I was playing pretend. When I was someone else, I was my true self.
For me, I am on a journey to my core. To let who I once was rule my body and soul. I know that some of you reading might not understand what I mean. You may not have grown up in a forest of laughter and simplicity. Maybe you’ve been grown up for as long as you can remember, and if that is the case, I want to commend you for whatever you have made it through. Even still, I have something to say to you: your child is in you. They're eagerly waiting to be given permission to roll down grassy hills and sing with the birds and jump in puddles. They’ve never been allowed to enjoy Earth. They’ve never been allowed to be completely free from their environment. But it’s never too late to let go.
The journey to my core is one that has led me not just inward, but outward. I think that every successful journey inward takes the form of infinity. ∞ A meaningful journey inward bends and gently leads you to a mountain-top view of the outside world so you can help others in your own unique way without overthinking it. She just did what came naturally, which made her free to help others freely and without stress. Expectations were nonexistent. She didn’t expect much from the world, and the world didn’t expect anything from her back, and yet both still gave to one another. It was a beautiful symbiosis.
I look at this picture and it feels like a knife is sinking into my chest, a key opening a locked heart. I crave so badly to feel that much light in my heart and behind my eyes again.
I know that if you’re anything like me, if you’re a teenager, you are confused, at least in part, about life and its meaning, about what part you play in that meaning. I know that you are probably wondering about your future, and trying to learn about yourself right now so you can predict what your future self will want to do for a living. There’s someone who I think might have more good advice to give you than you realize, and that person is actually the you of long ago. They know your most natural ways of inhabiting the world and interacting with it. They know what you makes you content. They know your deepest curiosities and what makes you laugh. Why don’t you give them a chance?
I don't see weakness in growing into a child. I see adaptability, I see resilience, I see vigor, I see beauty. Your inner child lets you feel and accept your emotions. They are you before you were scathed by expectations, whether those came from others or yourself.
You don’t have to know what you want your future to look like. You also don't have to fear or resent the future when you wake the child in you—you will just know that the future isn't everything. Quite frankly, my child forgets that the future exists at all. I am excited to wake up today, and that is everything.
No more "as a girl, I was..."
As a girl, I am.
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" - Matthew 19:14