I look at my children, sometimes, and I marvel at how much they will change over the next few years. With middle school looming for my ten-year-old, and college farther on the horizon, the next decade of her life will be one of utter transformation. From gap-toothed child to fully-formed adult with new ideas and new perspectives. Even her body will be different: taller, stronger, more capable.
But just when I start to hyperventilate about the swift passage of time, I look around at some of the fully-formed adults I call my friends and realize that some things never do change, no matter how old we get.
Take wardrobe decisions. At the ripe old age of thirty-seven, you’d think I could confidently select an appropriate outfit for any given occasion, but you’d be wrong. Oh, no. Important events still require consultations with friends, family, and full-length mirrors. The nervousness I feel when I’m not sure if I am dressed properly for an occasion is just as sharp now as it ever was in middle school. Thankfully, my current social and professional circles do not involve events like “fashion risk Friday,” which was a traumatic time in the sixth grade.
The premise was that you were supposed to wear awful, mismatching clothes, which seems simple enough, but because it’s middle school the whole experience was fraught with social danger. I can still remember the mortification of being eye-balled by a popular girl who took in my outfit (which I thought was appalling) and announced dismissively “that’s what you always look like.”
These days I am rarely asked to deliberately look foolish but grown-up attire can still be stressful. Just last week, I found myself exchanging texts with a friend about what the expected dress code for a community event was. And lest we be tempted to fall into gender stereotypes, that friend was a man who was just as nervous as I was about the prospect of being the only one to show up in jeans.
Or how about communal seating? My kids regularly come to me with tales of juvenile heartache stemming from who sat next to whom at lunch or in the car or on the benches on the playground. And it all seems quaint and silly…until you find yourself hovering on the edge of a crowded lunchroom at a professional conference, desperately scanning the room for someone to sit next to. Or, worse yet, approaching a table, only to discover that the seats are already saved (presumably for someone much cooler than you).
We may get older, wiser, smarter, and stronger, but some things just never change. And I’m okay with that. The fact that I still get nervous about my clothes or anxious about finding a friend to sit with make it easier to me to talk through those issues with my kids. I suppose the fact that these issues don’t magically disappear when you turn 18 might be an unwelcome revelation to my children, but I like to think that they appreciate the fact that they aren’t alone in their experiences.
Of course, it isn’t just social awkwardness that carries with you into adulthood. Some of the most sincere elements of childhood ring true at every age. My best friends and I still enjoy reading books, sharing snacks, and talking for hours as much as we did when we were twelve. We just call it book club now and bring wine. The sense of well-being that comes from surrounding yourself with like-minded women is every bit as powerful in adulthood as in childhood – probably more so.
And at book club, you never have to worry who to sit next to.