“When I grow up…” If a parent or primary school teacher received a pound for every time they heard this phrase, I reckon they could quit their job and retire to the Bahamas within a year. For little children, growing up is a certainty – it is inevitable, and the four words are often followed by “…be rich,” or “…become a princess,” or “drive a Mercedes.” (In case you were wondering, I stalwartly believed I would emerge from the cocoon of childhood as a budding teen rockstar, Hannah-Montana-style until… who am I kidding? I still half believe my rock’n’roll career will work out eventually.) Not many people (I’ll probably be an exception, of course) actually go on to fulfil these dreams, but that’s because 5-year-olds aren’t known for being all about realism. I mean, what kind of sad kid says “When I grow up I want to be associate manager of a branch of a company that does or sells something I don’t quite understand”? Or “be an investment banker”? (No offense intended – we appreciate all the work you do for this country, you financial tycoons.) When I was a kid I spent a ludicrous amount of time fantasising about being “grown up”. If I wasn’t trying on my mum’s clothes, I would be playing University (a very aptly-named and fairly self-explanatory game, if I say so myself) with my friends. Like most children around that age, I couldn’t wait to eat as much sugar as humanly possible without being told off, to set my own bedtime and to be able to stay at home and do what I wanted all day, every day. But I think, on reflection, I was possibly confusing adulthood with being an insomnolent sugar-junkie with no friends, no job and countless therapy appointments.
I assumed that when you hit the big 1 8 everything would click into place and suddenly you would have your life together, know everything there is to know about washing machines and be able to fend for yourself in the world. If you’re reading this and panicking or thinking, wait – that ISN’T what happens? then I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t quite work like that. Growing up is a gradual process – possibly the longest there is. You can reach the age of 50 and still have no clue what the phrase “grown up” really entails, but that’s ok. It truly is a case of learning on the job. When people ask me what I want to do beyond school, I’ve stopped saying “When I grow up” and started saying “If I grow up.” (Let’s face it: if anyone was forever trapped in childhood it would be me.) In the words of a faded motivational poster on the wall of a computing room at school, “Try to do something you’re not ready for every day. That’s how we grow.”
There are, however, some certainties that we can look forward to when we get older. So, being a lot older and (I hope) very marginally wiser than my younger self, here is a modified list of “When I grow up…”s.
When I grow up I will:
1. Find lukewarm cups of tea all over the house/apartment.
2. Constantly walk into rooms with a purpose, then leave a minute later having completely forgotten what it was I intended to do.
3. Consider curling up on a couch with some After Eights, reading the latest best-seller until after 10 o’clock a “wild Saturday night”.
4. Never make it through the first half hour of a film without falling asleep.
5. Use phrases like “Bob’s your uncle” (he’s not, he’s my grandpa) and “my giddy aunt” on a regular basis.
6. Keep a box stacked full of Emergency Greetings Cards all year round.
7. Develop a sudden interest in gardening, birds and possibly the moisture-content of the ground.
8. Attend a never-ending entourage of coffee-mornings because I can’t find a valid excuse not to go.
9. Frown disapprovingly when I see someone wearing a miniskirt (or is it a belt? Hard to tell.) and wince whenever there is unnecessary swearing on TV.
10. Have one-way (often passive-aggressive, more often just plain aggressive) conversations with other drivers within the safety of my own car.
So I guess you could say that the truth about growing up is that most of us never do.