They were all there in the pool, having a blast. Uncle/grandfather figure was dunking kids left, right and centre, but no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t quite get his head underwater. If they weren’t fighting the giant, they were jumping off the rope or paddling on the blow-up raft while the adults watched the entertainment unravel.
And then there was me. On the outskirts of the pool fence stood a very torn 13 year old teenager with all the agony of an adolescent trying to be grown up.
We weren’t supposed to be swimming at our friend’s place that afternoon, so I left my pearl necklace and nice t-shirt on from Church. But the water beckoned, the Mums said yes, and all the other kids and teenagers jumped into the delicious water that overcast afternoon. I, however, was conflicted. Part of me wanted to jump in, join in with the others, and have fun.
The expectations hovering in my mind held me back. Wasn’t I supposed to be a young adult now? Isn’t sitting outside, talking and laughing, what adults do? Aren’t I supposed to be a young lady now, grown up, and mature for my age, as I’m always told I am?
Can I just say for one moment, that growing up is hard. For all its glory of ‘the best days of your life’, they are also really awkward and unnerving. Everybody is telling us to do different things and those things are all contradicting each other until we don’t know which way is up. I have no idea if others were like this, but for me, I had something I like to call The Fight for Maturity. I wanted to be mature, and stories, books, sermons, and blogs told me how to achieve that.
The problem was it wasn’t true maturity. True maturity doesn’t come through meeting a list of standards we make up for ourselves or absorb from other people. I put so much pressure on myself now that I was ‘grown up’ to be grown up in a certain way. Being mature, or so I thought, involved talking, not playing; texting others with proper grammar; reading heavy books; and discussing God-stuff all the time.
Some of those ideas I put on myself was a true expression of me. Some of it was not. Sometimes my heart longed and longs to just jump in the water and play like a maniac. We think we have to act prim and proper and we fight to ‘be mature’.
But it’s okay to have fun, too.
True maturity is not defined by what I do or whether I wear pastel pink over hot red, but how well my character handles a situation. A lot of my most adrenalin-hyped friends are also the most mature people I know. What makes them mature is their ability to assess risk, to know when to stop partying and start caring, to listen, to overlook the mistakes of others, to give their own opinions with confidence and humility, and to speak clarity when everyone is snarky and truth when everybody is confused. Those things are the marks of true maturity. Some definition of being ‘too old’ or expectations of ‘being proper’ has nothing to do with it. Just be yourself; you’re fabulous. Don’t worry about the expectations of others. This world is gorgeous. Have fun.
When I was in Uganda I was really nervous being around 23 year old university students who were volunteering with the organisation of the family I was staying with, because they were smart, cool, and confident. Dad texted me this: Just be Jess. The more I practice that, the more I enjoy myself for who I am, the more fun I have, and the freer I feel to be truly mature. To use the words of CS Lewis: Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term for approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. … When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
If you are wondering how my 13 year-old, afflicted self finished that afternoon, it has a happy ending. My tear-stained face found itself upside down when the ‘immature’ adult dunking kids underwater jumped out of the pool, threw me over his shoulder and into the pool. The water was perfect. I had a great time. We may have even dunked Mr Impossible-to-Dunk underwater.