i could have met you in the sandbox

I had a somewhat unsettling realization today during a dinner with my family: this year I will be turning twenty-five. 25. XXV. This in itself is not particularly startling. Birthdays are something that tend to happen every year for most people, or so they hope.

And I love birthdays. Anyone’s birthday. I am one of those people who chimes in on “Happy Birthday” when it is being sung to strangers in bars and restaurants. I can’t help it- I just get caught up in  all the happy. A birthday is a time to celebrate life and friendship with gifts and large, elaborate pastries! Every year, my birthday is a delight- every year I look forward to it. And this year is no exception. With one exception.

Twenty-five. That’s it. Quarter of a Century. There’s nothing I can do about it.

Beth Hopkins circa 1991 would almost certainly be appalled.

When you are a small child, aging is a wonderful thing. It means you can ride real bikes, eat solid food, and any number of other exciting things. Hitting the double digits is thrilling. Because you’ll be a teenager soon, and the world will be your oyster. You will be cool, and by gosh, you will know everything there is to know. Certainly more than your parents have ever known.

Age, for kids, means bragging rights and seniority- to a point.

There are little kids. There are big kids. And there are grown-ups. In a child’s mind, grown-ups cannot be little or young or kids. They are old. Although there is no definitive benchmark for “old” in Kid-dom, but I would venture to say that it begins to happen at twenty. And by twenty five, there’s no turning back.

Telling a small child your age- if it is anything larger than twenty- causes them to look at you with wonder, disbelief, and perhaps a dash of outright. “Twenty Fiiiive?” they’ll be saying to me soon, with expressions of awe and pity, “Whoa”.

I know how you feel, kids. Trust me. My young self would have expected me to have everything figured out by now: a job, married, my own house, maybe even some kids. Grown-ups may be old, but they are enviable to children in this: a grown up is Ruler of his or her Own Realm. Grown-ups can stay awake as late as they want. They can have another scoop of ice cream. They can skip breakfast. They live in a mystical and powerful reality where what they say goes. And, in exchange, they have to do boring things like work and be stuck in traffic.

Although I have the night owl thing down, and an increased tolerance for dairy treats, I doubt I have earned my full bill of adult rights. Bill paying, regular dentist appointments, and understanding insurance benefits are among the many things about being an adult that remain illusive to me. Part of me knows I have learned and grown through experience- but most of myself remains convinced that I know less now than I ever have. If grown ups had recess, they would pick me last for kickball.

In this, I have probably disappointed my younger self. But she would be happy to know I haven’t forgotten her. The daunting climb to adulthood is a trying one. It is a long, arduous struggle that is not achieved simply by having enough birthdays. And the irony is, it seems to me, that it would be impossible to live through adulthood without retaining some elements of the childlike.

Life would be ugly without a sense of wonder. It would be boring without imagination. It would be agony without fun. Children understand these things. And I hope I have learned enough from mini-me to become someone she’d be proud to know.


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