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How to Avoid Growing Up Gracefully

by Zulie Rane 7 months ago in parents

Mom taught me to dodge the messages to age with grace.

Image of author and mom.

At a fun family reunion three years ago, my family and I attended an Easter egg hunt at the local cider brewery. The first prize (and biggest egg) was a $25 gift certificate for the brewery, and there were a lot of great, smaller prizes as well — some merchandise, chocolate, candy.

The sun was hot, the stakes were high. My mom was ready.

When the hunt began, most contestants jokingly started peering behind bushes, lifting up the odd rock. They didn’t want to try too hard — Easter egg hunts are for kids, after all, and they were serious grownups.

I’ve always found that as I get older, it’s much less cool to show that you care about things, or enjoy trying hard. At age five, you can ask someone to be your friend. By age ten, that’s not acceptable anymore. Effortless is the look that most people, ironically, strive for.

But at a brewery Easter egg hunt, my fifty-year-old mom followed in a grand tradition of doing whatever she liked in contempt of traditions about age and dignity.

She took off running.

Before most of the adults even started poking around in the grass, she’d already done a lap of the perimeter. Circling back to our group, she called, “Right, I think that clump of bushes, the top of that hill, and possibly those marshy ditches over there will be the most likely places to find eggs. I’ll take the hill.”

The sign my mom’s been seeing her whole life. From @willygurl68 on Tumblr.

You know what happened when everyone else saw my mom racing around, getting all the best eggs, laughing and acting like a kid? They started to do so as well. Some people shouted encouragement (or heckled shamelessly) from the sidelines while others did the actual egg-hunting. There were joking accusations of egg theft. The hunt organizers were thrilled with the unexpected level of engagement.

It ended up being a really fun morning. We all got a bit dustier and out of breath than we’d intended, but the entire group had an amazing time doing an actual Easter egg hunt.

It should go without saying that we found the first prize egg.

You don’t have to grow up.

When I was younger, I worried about the prospect of growing up. It seemed like I was the only one. I was the last one clinging to the monkey bars at school. I was one of the few remaining kids picking up rocks to see what was beneath them. (In Georgia, it was almost always roly-poly bugs, but you’d find the odd exciting garter snake.)

On one side, all these messages were being drummed into my head. Be cool. Don’t care. Be chill. Don’t show effort. If you’re bad at something, don’t try. If you’re good at something, pretend it’s easy.

On the other, my mom sat on the sidelines, telling me it was OK to want to have fun, to be interested in things, to care about doing well. She encouraged me to try new things even when I was bad at them and proved the value of showing how hard I did try at things I was good at.

Just like that Easter egg hunt, my mom would join in on any games of hide and seek, tag, basketball, or any other games we let her, and she wasn’t self-conscious about openly having fun. She never made anything look effortless, and she wasn't ashamed to show she cared about things like reading or the good opinion of her friends.

She was still a responsible, mature adult — she still was my first port of call if I had any trouble or was needed advice — but she never, ever, discounted my passions or told me not to try.

Growing up is not that great, but it’s optional.

I recently purchased a pair of rollerblades. I've been living at home during the pandemic, and reminiscing about my younger years terrorizing the neighborhood on wheels.

But I almost didn't buy them. "Surely, I will look ridiculous," I mused to my mom as my finger hovered over the "remove from cart" button. "Like an overgrown gangly bat."

"So what?" my mom coolly replied. "You probably will. But you'll have fun, won't you?"

I bought them, and reader, I did have fun. I do not cut a graceful figure, and I am not talented at scooting around on wheeled boots, but it's exhilarating.

Throughout my childhood, my mom never treated me like I was anything other than an adult, with reasonable views and an ability to think critically. She treated me and other children as real, full people rather than lesser beings just because of age. But she also never stopped me from indulging my "childish" side.

My mom was able to demonstrate that becoming a grown-up is more or less optional. You do have bills to pay, and you do have more to worry about, but there’s literally nothing stopping you from diving into your passions with childish abandon. You can be a responsible adult, and still love running around or causing havoc.

That was one of the most important lessons my mom taught me: grow up, yes, but never do anything because you want to appear grown-up. Let your interests and keenness and passion shine through — people won’t think less of you for it. And if they do, they aren't your people.

I really think everyone, no matter how serious or business-like, genuinely wants to go back to the playground, and they would if they thought nobody was watching. Growing up so often just means getting better and better at hiding their interests and effort until many of them are a smooth facade of passionless efficiency. I’ve never wanted that, and thanks to my mom, I've known I can avoid it.


Zulie Rane

Cat mom, lover of pop psychology, freelance content creator. Find me on zuliewrites.com.

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