Personal Essays

The tradition of becoming a grown-up

I’m writing this on the eve of my 38th birthday, which is a good time, I suppose, to be thinking about becoming a grown-up.

When I was little, growing up was – at least in my mind – an actual, geographical place. When I noticed my parents dressing up to go out, I’d ask where they were going, hoping that I’d be taken along. Sometimes I would be. But other times, the answer was, “We’re going to pagtanda,” a Tagalog word which means maturity, old age. To me personally, it translated to a place for grown-ups, somewhere you can go when you are older.

Growing up, for me, happened in stages. There were certain things I had to wait until I was a certain age to do: wear nail polish, make-up, high heels; carry a real leather handbag; go to mixed parties; have a later curfew. I look around now and see toddlers with painted finger and toe nails, and ten-year-olds wearing make-up, and I think – sadly – that growing up seems to have become a lost tradition. There are too many young girls and boys today who are much too old for their years…perhaps through no fault of their own. What child doesn’t long to grow up? But every child needs to be told, “Not yet.” It’s not cruel, but a good and wise thing to be made to wait.

So at 38, am I finally grown-up? Truth be told, I never thought I’d make it this far. Not that I thought I’d die young, but when you are a teenager, your thirties – somewhere far off in the misty future – seem to be the pinnacle of ripe old age. I’m looking now at a photo of myself and my friends taken at my 18th birthday, and I’m smiling at how dressed-up we were and how grown-up we felt – and how little we really knew.

Well, we’ve all had our growing pains — and now we’re starting to reap the rewards that come after much struggle. Growing up is indeed a privilege that’s earned.

18 was a good year, but 18 + 20 is even better.

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