teenager

I don’t know where my childhood ends, and I don’t know where my adulthood starts. I remember a timed writing assignment in fourth or fifth grade on my favorite childhood toy with a prompt that implied my childhood was in the past. I remember thinking when I was ten or eleven, and still distinctly considered myself a child, that teenagerhood was a disgusting category all its own–completely different from childhood and adulthood, and a completely unfavorable experience for pretentious kids who want their lives to be knockoff reality TV. To me, being a teenage girl meant shopping at Aero and Abercrombie, meant wearing clothing that was uncomfortably tight, meant swearing and approving of middle school stairwell makeout seshes, meant starting and engaging in all kinds of drama, meant exclusive clique-iness while claiming that my friend group was in fact very inclusive, meant making fun of the freshmen in high school once I was done being a freshman in high school, meant making my parents spend all sorts of money on a new Vera Bradley item each month, meant makeup and curled hair and gossip. After I turned thirteen, for a long time I rebelled against accepting the notion that I was a teenager, and I found further reason to do so when I could only remember hearing the term to describe me when my dad spat “such a teenager” when I espoused contrarian views or got into fights with my parents.

It wasn’t until one day when a friend told me that I was about seventeen and that was a good age to start trying to enter discourse that adults were engaging in, that it sunk in. I’m seventeen, I thought. I’m really seventeen. I realized that I was not only a teenager but nearing the upper end of the teenager years, that soon I would be an adult, and that I felt way too much like a dependent kid, and that maybe it was partly because I was being treated like a kid. Half a year later, I read Hamlet in my literature class in senior year, and saw parts of myself in Ophelia, who was much older than I was. Ophelia’s father told her she was a baby and that she should listen to him because she didn’t know what to think on her own. A line that I remember is her saying, “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” I read a post on the Adroit Journal Blog where the author argued that Ophelia is a quintessial teenage girl because of the way her own thinking and feelings are erased by the men around her.

Sometimes I feel like my teenagerhood consists of the time after I realized that I was seventeen and almost eighteen and therefore a teenager. I think I called myself a teenager before that–I remember specifying that I was a teenager (or a high schooler, at the very least) on the About page of this blog when I started it, and probably in another post. By calling myself a teenager, I was trying to show how much I wasn’t a teenager, I was trying to show that I could think what I thought were adult thoughts and live what I considered adult concepts like minimalism and sustainability too. I didn’t like Aero and Abercrombie or Forever 21, I didn’t like fast fashion and fast food. I liked Everlane and Sezane, I liked Gregorian chant. It bothered me when I wrote poems about teenage romance and existential crises, because that seemed too immature to me.

I have since changed my thinking on what it means to be a teenager. I still feel weird associating the term teenager with me sometimes. When I showed my school counselor a mood board I put together for a college application, she said she liked it because it showed that I wasn’t just a top student but also a teenager who liked to have fun. One day last year my wellness teacher said something about being a teenager–he was giving a quick statement on distracted driving, and just said that teenagers are part kid, part adult, and that we can be kids with our friends in the cafeteria, but we had to be adults when doing adult things like driving. And I think maybe that was the best explanation of teenagerhood that I hadn’t been given until then, really.

The idea of teenagerhood I had been given was that teenagers are bad and rebellious and angsty and annoying and immature. I never really fit in with the people around me, and I hadn’t had the best experiences with the older kids when I was younger since some of them were nice but the others just kept to themselves and seemed to think they were too good to associate with younger children (I don’t think that’s the case anymore, now that I’ve been on the other side and have been too anxious or nervous to talk to people that I felt no negative feelings toward, including those younger than me). My dad used the word “teenager” in what I took to be an insult, and I think that underscored my urge to prove I was absolutely not a teenager.

In some ways I might be right about my teenagerhood starting late and seeming so short. Because for so much of the time before, I tried so hard not to be a teenager, to not have the middle ground between child and adult. I wanted to keep the best things about childhood while also taking on the responsibility of adult, while skipping the confusion and mistakes and immaturity that teenagers can fall into. But I think by trying to navigate the path from childhood to adulthood, and struggling while doing so, and trying to define for myself who I am while others created their own interpretations of me and my age, then I was effectively being a teenager, albeit a teenager who hasn’t fit in many other teenagers. And I think there’s something I have liked about adulthood, or at least my idea of adulthood–that although the world is bigger and scarier than it was in childhood, there won’t be high school to squeeze me into such narrow notions of what it means to be a human being who is interesting and interacts with others.

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