Last night, in my teenage angst, I felt sad about my age for the first time. But that was immediately the thing; I didn't feel sad about my life - as saying you feel sad about your age often implies. I felt sad about how my actions were seen as relative to my age.
I used to teach Sunday School. It was really more of a church service for children. I would come and do ridiculous things to get them to like me and then I would tell them a story and pretend that they were interested in what I had to say. Then their parents would tell me how much their kids liked coming to my class and I would feel like my time wasn't all wasted - just some of it. Our group was integrated, which meant that we had about fifty kids from ages five to ten in one class room. At that point, from bottom to top they're pretty cognitively differentiated. I really liked the little ones. They were so cute and shy and crazy, if they had a comfortable enough group of friends. They were also super interested and generally captivated by everything I did and said.
The older ones, though, I'm willing to say now, three years after the fact, were the reason I was there. Kids ages 10-14 are my candy. They're fun, they're able to carry on conversations, and sometimes they're the worst, but mostly they're the funniest because they don't know what's going on and they think they have to be awesome all the time. I have a pretty easy time developing invested relationships, so during that time, some of those ten and eleven year olds, were some of my closest friends. I felt pretty good about that for a long time. I loved them, they loved me. There was a lot of love. And I could influence them. That part was pretty good too. I could encourage them to think deeply about difficult issues like homelessness and materialism and being a good friend. And we would learn; together, from each other.
The biggest problem with pre-teens is that they become teenagers. This isn't to say that I don't love teenagers. I do. Maybe even more than pre-teens. But if you lose contact with a pre-teen, don't think you'll be able to re-establish that contact after a couple years, because then they'll have left pre-teenhood and be teens; and believe it or not, teens are a lot more discerning in terms of how much longevity you're going to bring to the table. And longevity, at this point, is really what it's all about. Let's just remind ourselves the real reason of why Twilight is so appealing.
As I mentioned, it's been three years since I stopped teaching that class and every pre-teen I had a connection with is now a teen. But we all still live in this pretty small town, so I see them all the time. It's a consistently uncomfortable exchange. I work at the public library and so I most commonly see them there. I can't just ignore them, so I always go up and talk to them about how school is going and what they're reading and then make a comment about the sufficient awkwardness of the conversation. This always makes them laugh because they don't think they were allowed to say it. Then I leave them to their lives. It's pretty awful. But I do it. Because even if they don't still love me, or see me as they used to, I still think of them as eleven year olds, waiting to be befriended and influenced.
Last night, I was at Safeway buying donuts before I went to my friend Janelle's. I saw this girl across the store and noted how pretty her dress was. Then I got in line at the express check-out. I glanced at the girl who's dress I loved and low and behold, it was one of my pre-teens, with another one of my pre-teens. I didn't recognize either of them. They're now taller than me, wear higher heels than me, and wear the same amount of make-up as me which effectively removes them from any illusion of childhood that I might have had about them. I said hi and told her I liked her dress. She said her feet hurt; I said I believed her. I noticed the other pre-teen, who said hi and giggled just like she used to when she was nine. Thank goodness. They were buying an ice-cream cake for their friend's birthday. They had taken her to Regina for supper (not dinner, ha). She was turning fourteen. I remembered that my plans for my 26th birthday in a few weeks are to watch the Season 4 premiere of Pretty Little Liars and eat pulled pork at home. We all smiled. Someone paid for the cake. I assume with their parents money. Our conversation ended.
On the conveyor belt I had placed a box of crackers, two donuts and two packs of Peanut M&Ms. I watched the first pre-teen stare down at my items the way you do when the 80 year old ahead of you is buying twelve cans of cat food and a box of molasses. I thought about what my items amounted to. It really didn't look like much. And all I could think was, "This is what 25 looks like, girls. This is what's waiting for you." And like, I'm single. I live with my parents. I will never not be saving for tuition. And I feel like that might be disappointing for them to think about. Because 14 is when going out for a birthday supper (not dinner) in Regina is the best you can get. But when you're 25, all you can think about is how much that's going to cost and how you could just sit and eat donuts at home wearing yoga pants. Is that what's waiting for them? Probably. But maybe not. According to Girls, yes. But according to the experience of the rest of my friends, no.
Last night, was the first time, I've ever been disappointed in my age. But not, really. I was disappointed in what people - down to the age of 14 - expect my age to represent, and may or may not be disappointed by how I am living up to that. But really, I'm pretty secure with my yoga pants and donuts. So I'm just going to stick with that.