There are times more numerous than I’d like to admit when I forget how old I am – I’ve often been on the point of telling someone I’m nineteen, or even seventeen. I have to think carefully when filling out forms which ask for my age or my age range.
But I am starting to realise that I’m making that mystical shift from teenager to adult (albeit a few years late, numerically). Here are the things that have tipped me off:
- I prefer a cup of hot chocolate and a good book to a night out
- I have a weekly budget, and I stick to it
- I make shopping lists and meal plans
- My cupboard contains neatly-labelled storage jars of baking ingredients
- I am genuinely excited by the prospect of making my own bread
- I wear comfortable shoes almost every day
- For Christmas, I asked for (and received) an ironing board
- People refer to me as “the lady” rather than “the girl” when speaking to children
- When I take my babysitting kids to the park, people think I am their mother
- I own, and often wear, what my grandmother would have called a half-slip
Now obviously there are plenty of adults who do not do these things, just as there are probably plenty of people who do at least some of them whilst still technically a child. But they’re my personal markers of maturity, the signposts along my life path that I can only see in retrospect.
The comfortable shoes, for instance. My wardrobe is full of old, tattered summer pumps which were agony to walk in, didn’t keep out the rain and only lasted for three months before falling to pieces. This year, I’m wearing padded faux-leather Mary Janes which I hope will last me for years to come. Even six months ago I would have told you that I was prepared to sacrifice comfort in order to wear pretty shoes, but now that I’ve experienced wearing shoes which don’t cause blisters, bleeding and bruising on my heels? It will be impossible to ever go back.
Being referred to as a lady/woman and assumed to be the mother of toddlers makes me laugh, because only two years ago I was underwear shopping in the company of my mother and was informed that, as I was under 16, she would have to accompany me into the changing rooms while I was measured for a new bra. The flustered expression when we told her that I hadn’t been under sixteen for several years was rather sweet. When I look at photos of myself from back then and compare them to what I see in the mirror each morning, I honestly can’t see the difference, but something has changed – I haven’t been offered the child fare on a bus for ages, more’s the pity.
I started writing this post over a year ago, and came across it in my drafts folder with the list half finished. The ease with which I added the final six items proved to me that I have grown up even more in the past fourteen months, which in turn suggests that I still have a long way to go in the future! Back when I began writing it, we were only a few months away from the graduation ceremony for the year I matriculated with. At the time I did not feel anywhere near ready to leave university, even while I was kicking myself for messing up and not being able to graduate with everyone else. Now, with my own graduation on the horizon, I do feel ready. I’m starting to feel old here.
Thanks to our college’s pastoral system whereby new students are assigned “mothers” in the year above to help them through their first term, and due to the eponymous ad libbed gap year, I am now the matriarch of my college’s law students. Almost all of them are my college daughters and nieces, or grand and great-grand versions of those categories. It doesn’t mean very much to be honest, I can’t keep track of who they all are (rather like a real great-grandmother, I suppose) and I haven’t even met most of the first years. But sometimes I do get the chance to mother them a little.
The other day, one of the first year lawyers (ironically the only one definitely not descended from my lineage – she has geographer parents due to a scarcity of lawyers in the year before her) had a Coca Cola-black ink explosion in her bag just outside my door. I quite literally stumbled across her, and lent her a proper cloth and a tub of soapy water instead of the soggy toilet paper she was attempting to mop with.
As I helped her deal with the flood I was reminded of my own college grandmother, who spent my first year, her final year, lending me textbooks, giving me sage words of advice and trying to persuade me to try gin and tonic. At the time she seemed very grown up and together, with a clear life plan and enough experience to know how to pursue it. I’m now older than she was when she graduated. It turns out that being a grown up is decidedly relative.