When I was a child in primary school, I didn’t quite grasp the underlying concept to the ubiquitous question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Rather than replying with the logical, normal reply of “A fireman!”, “A nurse” or “A marine biologist!” I replied “I want to be 25!”
Well hold on to your hat, inner child, as I am about to make all your dreams a reality! This week marks the anniversary of my birth, with a number that can be multiplied with alarming simplicity to obtain much greater, much more significant digits.
My 6 year-old self chose 25 because apparently that was the age she thought she would be truly grown up, independent, a well-functioning, put-together adult. Sorry about that.
As I go tumbling headfirst into the year of the quarter-life crisis, I’ve been doing some reflecting. And not just in the mirror as I search for grey hairs and wrinkles. Primarily I’ve been searching my earliest memories for foreshadows of my current self, seeking to find out whether there were any signs manifest in my childhood that signalled the life that was to follow.
One of the oft marked upon quirks of my method of verbal communication is that there is no discernible difference between my serious voice and my sarcastic voice. Which has the result that wherever I go, I leave in my wake a host of confusion and uncertainty. This is something that perhaps could have been predicted by those who knew me as a toddler.
For the overwhelming majority of the population, the extremities of any type of feeling are very distinct. Few would express themselves in a way that would result in confusion as to whether they were terrified or in the thralls of joy.
As a 3 year-old, terror, excitement and pretty much any other extreme emotion were expressed in one way. Screaming. How delightful.
Normal expression fits quite nicely on a continuum, like so:
Whereas my diagram on the other hand looks a little something like this:
So anyway, back to me as a toddler. When at the beach, frolicking with delight amongst the waves, I would express my joy through blood-curdling screams, not unlike those heard in B-grade horror movies. Innocent bystanders would look around in alarm, expecting to see someone being chased by a serial killer holding a chainsaw. But it was only a little nugget of a child, hurtling around in the shallows pretending to be a fish. My mother got fed up with my unique form of self-expression one day, and marched over to me with explicit instructions to stop squealing, as nobody could tell if I was dying or not. I think I can pinpoint this as the exact moment I subconsciously decided to never again express my true feelings.
Don’t worry Mum, it’s nothing a few decades of therapy won’t fix.
In another episode with clearly less permanent consequences, I clearly remember the day my childlike artistic spirit was unceremoniously crushed into the dirt.
My father is an extraordinary artist, equally talented in the areas of photography, drawing and painting. When I wasn’t busy accidentally destroying his precious labours of love, I occupied myself with mastering the visual arts, because we all know talent is hereditary.
I decided to start with something simple. Something small. Something like a horse. With paper on floor and crayon in hand, I slaved away. At long last I was satisfied, and it was time to seek the opinions of the critics. I trotted off to show my mother, who looked down and said “Very nice dear.”
At last! Critical acclaim!
I ran off to my father, who looked down and said “Very nice dear.”
I knew it! A veritable masterpiece!
I hurtled off, intending to call the Louvre to tell them that the newest item for their collection had just been created, when I ran into my sister. Bursting with pride, I showed her my horse. She looked down, sneered, and said “That’s not a horse, it’s just a scribble.”
I was indignant. I was outraged. Hadn’t my horse received universal admiration? I looked down at my masterpiece, ready to defy my critic and point out the supple legs, the flowing mane of my equine creation. But as I looked upon my drawing, I could no longer see any of it. I couldn’t even identify the front or the back of the horse. All I could see was a scribble.
Don’t worry sis. My forgiveness is nothing that can’t be earned through a lifetime of artistic patronage.
But perhaps the trait that has remained the most consistent throughout my entire life is my distinctly amicable attitude towards food. As a child I was affectionately referred to as The Bottomless Pit, or Bacon and Cake in homage to my extraordinary capacity for these foods.
Some things never change.