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A Child in Grown-Up Shoes

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I’m sure a significant portion of this population is familiar with the statement, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” something that is pretending to be something that it is not. This version of pretending is what I have been doing for the last three years of my life. I’ve been a teenager trying and failing to be an adult: a child in adult shoes. Now that my childhood has come and gone, I find myself missing experiences that I will never experience again and feeling shame in a society that is pressuring kids to willingly give up their youth and follow the path that I was forced to go down.
As a teenager, I will admit that I had a glamorized idea of adulthood that I had. My tween angst made the freedoms and liberties that came along with the number eighteen seem like the Holy Grail that I’d been searching for, but my mind surpassed the more negative aspects that came along with coming of age in order to get the picture I wanted of my future life. I saw the sides of maturity I wanted to see but not the less desirable aspects that were undeniably there. I chose to ignore these things so that I could maintain the idea that life is supposed to be better after this. It was so easy to let the goal of growing up consume my life until it was all I wanted. It seems to me that I wanted to be an adult-until I actually had to be.
My mom was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer when I was thirteen years old. Suddenly I was forced into the life that I thought I wanted, but it wasn’t the life I’d imagined. Taking care of the person that had for so long taken care of me gave me this perception of myself that I couldn’t shake; I felt as if the experience of nursing my mother back to health was making me older and wiser. Being this adult, or this version of an adult, seemed to be working to me, but the problem was that the only person I was fooling was myself. If I walked the walk and talked the talk then I must be the real thing, right? So, I found myself doing all the things that my mother had done. Keeping track of bills, buying groceries, and doing laundry became a norm in my daily routine, but I didn’t grasp the fact that emotionally I was nowhere near being an adult. The trials of growing up quickly began to wear away at my being. I was trying to handle emotions that I wasn’t ready to face, and it became clear that there would be emotions I wasn’t equipped to handle. My life became preparing myself for the worst.
When she passed away, I had already convinced myself that I was ready for it; the adult thing to do was to be strong for everyone else around me. I held things in because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. What I didn’t understand then is that being an adult, at least being a responsible adult, means being able to ask for help and knowing one’s limits. Grief began to accumulate until I exploded emotionally all over everyone in my life, and it was easy for me to see that acting that way wasn’t very adult of me at all. I hadn’t appreciated the childhood that had been presented to me until it was too late for me to have it back, and, unfortunately, it has negatively affected the way I handle situations today.
Forcing children to grow up too quickly is a question that has surfaced often in the media over the past decade. Attention that academic pressures, increasing technological influence, and a new idea of what is “age appropriate” have all extinguished the small remainder of childhood that was left when my generation started to age. It’s terrifying to me that gummy vitamins have been replace by cholesterol medication, ipads have replaced the teddy bear, and browsing on the Internet has become more “fun” than playing Legos in the living room.
I recall, as a child, wrapping up sugar packets with tissues and creating pillows for Barbie’s dream house, which was, conveniently, the cardboard box that the Kitchen-Aid mixer had come in. My sisters and I made up worlds and characters and built in our imaginations day in and day out. Fortunately, our ideas were fostered by the support of parents who believed that cultivating our imaginations and creativity was important. But in the 21st century, children are growing up in a world obsessed with being the best, the thinnest, the most beautiful, and the wealthiest. Adolescent minds are developing in a culture where people are not formed by individual thought and expression but a thriving, heartless, media-dictator.
Increased exposure to the media has resulted in children trying to emulate famous adults in their twenties and thirties, but what kind of examples are the stars of Hollywood setting for today’s youth? Drugs, sex, and rock and roll have become part of this generation’s definition of glamour. Our ideas of beauty have been blown to destructive proportions, and media’s ubiquity has caused these false portrayals to spread like wildfire over the easily-influenced minds of adolescents. We are surrounded by media almost every second of the day, and practices such as social networking that were once monumentally beneficial have become monumentally destructive. What kind of world is this that 40% of nine year olds are on a diet? (“Fighting the Blame”, Newsweek 2005) It seems as if this supposed move “forward” in the development of today’s children could actually be sending us in the opposite direction.
The teenager that I would’ve loved to be never had the opportunity to exist. My innocence was torn away from me at an early age, and no matter how hard I try I will never have those years back. My times of naive preteen tendencies have lost since gone, cast aside in the shadow of my mother’s illness. I realize this now, in high school, as I hear slumber party stories and first kiss experiences that I didn’t have. I never had that best friend who knew everything about me, that first boyfriend, or even the stereotypical enemy. I had my mother and her illness, and all of my time was devoted to both of them. While other girls my age played spin the bottle and endure sloppy kisses, I was home watching Gilmore Girls with my mother waiting for that last bout of chemo nausea to pass. Those days vanished the moment she was diagnosed -- being about me -- and started being about being the person that she needed me to be. My mother didn’t need her thirteen-year-old daughter; she needed someone to take care of her. With one sister away at school and another who seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, the options for caretaker were limited, so I stepped up to the plate.
I do not resent my mother for keeping me from any of those things because I was where I was supposed to be, but that isn’t to say that missing out on those things hasn’t affected the person I’ve become. Day in and day out I struggle with my inability to relate, I face emotions that most teenagers my age cannot comprehend, and I know that the rest of my life is going to be affected by these things that have happened. This is my life. Everything that has happened to me is important to my story, but I do not wish such a fate on children today. It is incredibly ignorant that we live in a culture that promotes the ideas of growing up quickly without recognizing the emotionally crippling effects that might occur if our young people rush into the adult lifestyle.
Most people don’t understand why I’m sick of this country telling kids that they need to grow up. I’m sick of it because I’ve been that kid, that kid in the adult shoes, and I will admit that they were too big for my little feet to handle, yet the general population keeps telling children it’s okay for them to put them on the big shoes and walk around. So the children of today, drained of creativity and deprived of their innocent thoughts, drag their feet slowly along in the shoes that were never meant to fit them.





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