In just over a week I’ll be celebrating my twenty-eighth birthday. It’s looming in a disconcerting way - not a milestone and not particularly old, yet certainly significant, if only due to heralding the last years of my twenties. I’ve also realised it’s been a decade since my final year of school, a jarringly solid number that’s worth some kind of reflection. The fraught years of being a teenage girl seem so far away, like a headache that slipped away quietly. Or perhaps the headache itself was my early twenties – a hangover of adolescence, with the security of regimented schooling stripped away and nascent responsibilities and freedom curdling alongside the still festering insecurities of those teenage years, when we cared about everything and nothing at all.
This nostalgia of adolescent anguish may also be self inflicted; hours spent watching early seasons of Gilmore Girls, recently deposited on the Netflix catalogue, has made me sentimental for that highly strung intensity, found in its purest essence in a teenage girl – feelings, opinions, hormones and music alike all turned up full volume. The verbal rallies between Rory and Lorelai, spitting out references from pop culture and literature alike, also make me miss repartee - now so limited to the scrolling backlit feeds in front of us.
Wallowing in this imperfect maternal bond gave me more motivation than usual to cross the infrastructural quagmire that is the greater Auckland, and pay a visit to my Mother.
Strangely with the distance of both time and space, her home gives me a greater sense of comfort and stillness than when I lived at home; maybe as it’s a house I’ve never lived in, it has the luxury of being a clean slate – neutral territory, with no memories of tears and fights and the broken crystal tumblers that were victims of my youthful temper.
I wonder if she finds it strange that I used to fit in the crook of her elbow or hide behind her skirts, now that I’m not much younger than she was when I was born. Reflecting on my youth and hers, if my teenage years seem far away, my mother’s must seem impossibly distant. Even the concept of adolescence itself must seem unfamiliar; most of the trappings of my teenage years seem shallow in both nature and purpose. Bar a year or two, my mother was a child until she wasn’t.
Although all societies acknowledge the onset of puberty in some way, the actual concept of a “teenager” is newer than some of my family’s furniture – appearing as an adjective in 1921 and as a noun two decades later. A post-war construct (like so many social initiatives) and a marketers dream, like most shiny new things it appeared in America, as schooling was extended, marriage delayed and child labour frowned upon – all privileges of a country shielded from the theatre of war experienced across the Atlantic.
By the nature of their physical and psychological flux adolescents are drawn to all that is new and untested, I remember my parents trepidation at allowing me to get my own email, teenage years serve the purpose of teaching us to push boundaries and explore privacy, society and how our own identity fits and is formed by these. Lying for the sake of lying, trying on attitudes and personalities with carelessness usually reserved for an old sweatshirt. The pressure imposed on our current swathe of teenagers by our increasingly digital world and society’s unrealistic and unreal standards makes me feel incredibly sad, the constant pursuit of validation and perfection fuelling the insecurity and criticism that have given youth decades of toxicity already.
I’ll admit there’s a large amount of truth in the advice I’ve had meted out to me up until now; awareness and confidence of self (or perhaps it’s really just indifference) do eventually appear, not unlike that forgotten headache. One day I stopped caring, or realised I didn’t have to do so about everything; and whilst I miss being a teenage girl, I’d never do it again. Or maybe I’ve just been watching far too much Gilmore Girls.