Having returned to my childhood town, (not through choice) I often go past buildings and places that I was in awe of as a child. Most are now derelict, and the posh stores are now either boarded up or replaced by chains. Things really aren’t as glamorous when you grow up, or are as exciting as society makes out, or perhaps I was just expecting too much? Do we all really aspire to have our own home, a well-paid job, get married, and have children? Is that what adulthood is about, interspersed with the odd nice holiday, , the latest gadgets, and up to date fashion?
Like many I couldn’t wait to grow up, be independent, and not have to answer to my parents (although like most I did answer back and only let them know what they needed to know), but the reality is that adulthood isn’t as enticing as it’s made out to be. Of course it’s inevitable, but by yearning for it too quickly and with a blurred vision, we can miss out on the innocent pleasures of childhood and brush them off. I recall one woman who overheard me as a teenager whimper, “I can’t wait until I’m an adult!” who turned around and told my friends and I that childhood is the best time and to enjoy it whilst it lasts. We scoffed at her, but those words stayed with me. In fact I know the exact spot where I stood when those words were uttered, and that bank has closed down and homeless people now sleep outside it.
As a teenager in the UK, girls are indoctrinated with the notion that Saturdays are football days. The ideal was to watch your boyfriend play football, and thus you had to look good and wear the right kind of clothes so you didn’t catch a cold. Magazines were full of makeup tips and grooming advice (some had very bad ideas such as shaving your eyebrows!), and cosmetics were the bargain kind until you got a paid job. Beauty counters were for adults with money, and were posh with the likes of Elizabeth Arden, and Estée Lauder. Today, you can find the brands online, and even in pharmacies, so that exclusive allure no longer exists. I also used to think working in a department store would be glamorous and exciting, but my corns, and veins will tell you otherwise. Managers are stricter than teachers, and clock watch; basically you are on show on the shop floor. How you look, and how you behave is analyzed and judged whether you are aware of it or not. As much as I loved my comics, I couldn’t wait to buy glossy magazines and subscribed as soon as I could. Now magazines tend to be less inspiring and full of adverts and gossip, and I only buy them now if there is a good free gift on the cover!
I used to see office blocks and thought that’s where adults go when they grow up; they work in an office in town, or work in a shop from 9 till 5, because back then stores didn’t open late, only restaurants for dinner. Many of those old office blocks are closed down with ‘To Let’ signs, or boarded up because businesses have gone under, or due to the internet people work from home to save on renting office space. There are serviced and virtual offices with hot desks now, so there is flexible office space with no commitment. Office blocks still exist in major cities, and having worked in two, once you’ve tried it, it’s no longer exciting. I once worked in an office by the Thames and had a keycard and it felt good to work somewhere prestigious, but that novelty worse off quickly. It’s just an address and companies use it to make themselves look more exclusive. My company moved to a cheaper location shortly after I joined, and within a year they moved out of London. An office, like a job is no longer for life.
As a child I used to eat out often with my parents, but back then there was only KFC in a few places, and Wimpy. Other than that there were cafes or restaurants, you were either cheap or posh! These days there are chains, posh ones as well, and using a voucher code is considered normal now whereas before it was seen as cheap and common. How times change, except people still judge you on where you choose to eat. I wasn’t allowed in pubs (too dangerous and common!), but these days there are family pubs and gastro pubs which are much more civilized. People would eat out on special occasions only, whereas now, people eat out because they can’t be bothered to cook and with a meal deal, it can actually be cheaper. Who’d thought eating out could be cheaper than buying food and cooking it yourself?
There was mail order shopping when I was a child, and most people ordered from catalogues mainly because there weren’t that many fashionable shops in my town. When I was 15 or 16, I would go to London, or other big cities like Manchester to go shopping, but I wasn’t old enough for a credit card (no debit cards then), and couldn’t wait until I got one so I could buy what I wanted. The reality is credit cards are a convenience and not a status symbol as they were when they first came out, and these days with so much online fraud I rarely use them now that PayPal is around. Anyone can get plastic now, even if you are unemployed, and with the internet it doesn’t matter where you live, you can buy whatever you want.
As a child we look to adult life as exciting, free, fun, and glamorous and it can be at times. However, few children get to see the real side of adult life, with bills, and work pressures that everyone (no matter how rich or poor you are) will encounter. I had a little postbox moneybox that I would fill up and then bank as a child, and that was my extent of dealing with money. That and figuring out how many sweets or crisps 10 pence could get me! In hindsight those days were golden, and I would encourage children, especially teenagers to make the most of their childhood.
You really do have the rest of your life to cope with bills, looking for new work challenges, and dealing with bosses, and there really is no rush. Childhood is short in comparison, and I’m against the parents (Tiger Moms) who push their children (especially gifted ones) because they lose their childhood memories and experiences that can never be replaced or postponed. That happened to me, but I wised up mainly because I was bullied, and the only way to stop it was to play dumb. Teachers and parents can’t be with 24/7 and protect you, so you have to do it yourself and it’s amazing how resilient you can be.
Once you’re old enough, you can travel and go on holiday whenever you want, and not be dragged along on family holidays. Well, that’s what the adverts have you believe. I couldn’t wait to go on holiday with my friends, but it was a bit of a let down. Traveling I have learnt is about the preparation, and also what you aim to get from the trip. People pose for holiday snaps, and while some are genuine, many are these days for social media purposes. The truth is while travel is more affordable these days, again, you are judged on where you go and what hotel you stay in.
I do have a few treasured moments of childhood innocence from running around in the park and feeding the ducks, to rolling down grassy banks. Yet I know I tried to grow up too fast, and that was also because I was put in a position where I had to make decisions for myself and be responsible from an early age. I was a serious child because of this, and maybe I just couldn’t be as free as some of my contemporaries or my younger sibling who mastered the art of playing freely and enjoying himself until his late teens. Adult life seemed so much more appealing, and ironically now as an adult, being a child seems more appealing. I was a responsible child though, even with the odd carefree moment, and I miss the ability to be spontaneous and do what feels right without having to think. That’s the beauty of being a child—no one judges you and you can learn without apprehensions or fear of recriminations.
Being an adult, you know people will judge you on your background, appearance, and what you do, and that can prevent that kind of spontaneity that makes us individuals. It shouldn’t but it does, and so as I enter another phase of adulthood with realistic eyes, I’m not expecting too much. I’ll be content with some great travel adventures and a scenic beach cottage to live out my days with some great books to read, and films to watch. Adulthood is a game of appearances where you feel the need to be as good as your peers if not a step ahead. The question is, are you enjoying life or living it as you think it should be?