Growing Up Is Hard To Do

The art of aging isn’t as graceful as I imagined it would be.

I guess TV and books warped my perception of reality. I thought adulthood was this metamorphosis where I magically unveiled myself to be this charming and witty; kind and thoughtful; calm and levelheaded; poised person of humble origins. An assumed wisdom was somehow bestowed after so many years of life–like a divine gift at every milestone: 16, 18, 21, 25 . . . I thought wisdom came wrapped in shiny paper and a satin ribbon–preferably enclosed in an ornately gilded glass display case where it would safely rest on some mantle to be admired like a trophy.

So far, none of this has happened. But I’m still young yet.

I’m beginning to wonder if the bumbling child I was is the same bumbling adult I am. Perhaps personality has too strong a hold on us that we become who we were. I’d like to hope not. But I can see my id dictating a lot of the shots.

As a child, I was accident prone and irascible. The physical scars and countless bruises I accumulated from my own carelessness are the blemishes of an active childhood, a bit of sheer clumsiness, and complete disregard . . . for anything. Mostly, I was too self-indulged to be aware of my surroundings or impending consequences. But what kid isn’t?

I fell off couches from jumping all over them when I was strictly warned from doing so; I fell down stairs; I tumbled headfirst into the stone of our fireplace.

So, my brother and I were “playing.” I thought we were playing. He was chasing me in circles. We were dangerously close to the fireplace. Being the youngest child, I was just happy to play with my older siblings if they’d let me. But I also didn’t have the sensibility to just stop if I needed to. I always wanted to be a part of the fun and never wanted to miss out on an opportunity that I was invited into. I guess that’s my downfall. Literally.

I made myself dizzy from running in circles. If I had stopped to allow my brain to rest, the whole thing could have been avoided. Instead, my disorientation momentarily made me lose control of my motor skills. I crashed right into the corner of our fireplace. I was struck above the bridge of my nose (if I had a bridge, but I’m Asian and am cursed with the flat face feature–that’s probably wildly offensive).

I was 4. I got stitches and wore a bandaid that seemed to cover 1/3 of my face. I don’t remember being aware of looking silly. I don’t remember the actual process of getting stitches or whether I got anesthesia or not. I do remember bleeding. A lot. And crying. Also a lot.

At that time, we had this burgundy minivan. My brothers and I fondly referred to it as our “turtle van” in reference to the ever popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One of our favorite shows. I know now that it makes no sense because our van was red and their van was clearly not red, but we were kids. Anyway, my dad drove to the hospital while my mom laid me down in the back seat–my head in her lap. I imagine this scene where I’m spilling blood everywhere and she’s gently stroking my hair–to soothe her crying child or her own nerves? I’m not sure. Sometimes I think this is real. Sometimes I think I must have imagined the whole ride. But it’s all I can remember. That and waking up.

So that scar is still with me to this day. All because I get too wrapped up in a moment to actually think.

I also had a temper as a child. I would yell and scream at my mother. Hateful things. If I ever have a child and they stomp around the house, shutting doors, and telling me to my face they wish they had a different mother, I would cry. I think my heart would shrivel inside my chest and burn itself into the biosphere.

In my anger I often broke things. And I always felt guilty and foolish once my temper was subdued and silently allowed itself back into sanity.

I once knocked the toothbrush holders off the bathroom wall by accident. I’m not even sure how. I remember being so ashamed when my dad asked who did it. I didn’t want to confess. I’m not sure I ever did. My temper turned me into the Hulk–I would do things without having a lasting memory of how it happened. I would just be sitting in the aftermath. Debris and wreckage the only evidence of the tornado of my childish fury.

I don’t know how my mom put up with me. She is a saint. An absolute saint.

All this to say that I’m 24 years old now. And though I’ve learned to abide by social expectations, I feel that the inner selfish tyrant still reigns at large.

No, anger isn’t as familiar an emotion any more. (Thank God). But there is a level of frustration that is easily stirred. The problem now is that I’m old enough to be aware of how inappropriate my reactions are, but I don’t have the grace to subdue them entirely, which wreaks guilt-filled consequences. At what age does that kick in? 25? I really hope so. I could use some of it a.s.a.p.

I hate seeing myself behave like an angsty teenager or like the child throwing a fit because I’m not getting my way. Mostly because I’m in my mid-twenties and you’d think I’d have some of my sh@% together. But also because I thought I’d have matured a little bit by now. With so many years that have passed, shouldn’t some of those juvenile impulses be tame?

But I still have no patience. I try–I try to be kind and compassionate, as patient as I can. And I disappoint myself when I’m not. Which is nearly every single time. I’ve had far more losses than victories. I can probably count my triumphs on one hand.

My grandmother is almost 80 years old. She’s pretty young, considering. She has no idea how technology works. Every day she has a problem with turning on the TV. Every day she asks for help. Every day I try to tell myself not to be short with her, to just go downstairs and do it for her without muttering curses under my breath. Every day I fail.

She also likes to peek into my room and make sure that I’ve eaten. Her persistance of getting me to eat food is exacerbating. I reply with short answers. I reply with sighs of irritation. I don’t reply at all. And then she waddles her way to her room. And in my head, I know that she’s just lonely and that she loves me and wants to still be able to help or have the ability to take care of someone. But I don’t let her. And I do love her, but the dichotomy of wanting to be an adult and still being seen as a child is difficult for me to reconcile.

These aren’t my proudest moments. And yet they’re the moments that fill my daily life. What does that say about me?

Hopefully it says that I still have time to be a better version of myself–that there’s still hope of becoming the person I would like to be.

I thought wisdom would look like this polished, glitzy thing. Something you showcase on an immaculately dusted shelf, like you earned it or won it. I’m learning more that the wisdom I carry are in the scars. Or they’re crumpled bits of old receipts–faded from the jostle of life.

Wisdom isn’t this thing of beauty, it’s this thing that I have to rifle through my coat pockets, through my pants pockets, through my purse for. It’s this thing I’d rather not take out because the price I had to pay for it is still legibly printed. And it cost a pretty penny.

Even though I’ve paid, it still hasn’t bought me near enough to be the charming and witty; kind and thoughtful; calm and levelheaded; patient and considerate; poised and graceful person I’d like to be.

But maybe someday, years down the road, I’ll be a bit further than where I am today.

Here’s to the moments that build our characters–cheers.

L.

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