What Grown-ups don’t tell you about Growing Up…

Earlier today I was washing my hands in front of the bathroom mirror when I noticed something horrifying – what looked suspiciously like a grey hair. Now I know we all go grey eventually, and I’m also aware as a result of my peers’ experiences that it’s not uncommon for the odd grey to sprout in your early thirties. But, naively it now seems, I thought that just applied to people with dark hair (the recent media furore surrounding Kate Middleton’s apparently greying locks not having escaped my attention), not blondes. And I certainly never thought it would apply to me.

I’ll never forget the day my mum came into my bedroom when I was at home one weekend several years ago. She looked into the mirror and announced in a pained voice: “You know darling, when I look at myself now I can’t believe it’s really me – inside I still feel the same as I did when I was in my twenties. It’s horrible getting old.”

That moment was a turning point for my twenty-something self, as hitherto I’d always laboured under the misapprehension that one day – most likely when I hit my thirties, which at that time still felt like aeons away – I would magically feel grown up and more than able to assume the responsibilities befitting such a status. Realising this would not, in fact, be the case, was like receiving an unwanted and aggressive slap in the face.

No matter how much you sugar coat it, the truth is that there is no magic age when you become a grown-up – indeed many people (and I fear I may fall into this category) go through their whole lives never quite feeling like one (conversely, some people – who are in the minority, I might add – seem to have come out of the womb responsible adults, though for the purpose of this post I shan’t get into talking about them). When our bodies begin to show signs of ageing, therefore, it feels like a betrayal. How can we have grey hairs – surely a sign of our imminent demise? – when we still feel (and often act) like teenagers? It’s not fair! (I am stamping my feet as I type this – very mature).

Having re-examined the rogue hair in the mirror this afternoon I think I may, in fact, have been mistaken about it being grey. But, whether it was a trick of the light or not, something tells me that moment might have been quite pivotal in the next stages of my development. Each decade brings with it new learnings, and today I’ve discovered that grey doesn’t equal grave. A cheery thought to leave you with on a Friday!

Change

The following fictional post was inspired by the certificate ceremony I attended today with work at a youth centre in Islington, where teenagers from four of the schools my charity works with were commended for their participation in the Teens and Toddlers programme:

Change

I never thought I’d amount to much. Why would I? My parents told me every day that I was useless. Then even my teachers started giving up on me. It’s like a downward spiral, see. You start acting up to get attention, but all too late you realise it’s not the right kind of attention you’re getting. You wanted to be popular, not the class clown – the one the other kids laugh at and the teachers label as a troublemaker.

Things at home weren’t great. Dad’s drinking was getting worse and Mum, well, she was so doped up on depression pills she hardly knew what day it was. I pretty much did everything; cooking, cleaning, looking after my baby brother. If I hadn’t been there I don’t know what would have happened to him. He’d probably have been taken into care. Sometimes I wondered if that would’ve been best for the both of us.

When my teachers told me about this mentoring programme that paired teenagers with toddlers in a nursery I wasn’t interested at all; I had enough experience of looking after children with my baby brother, why would I want more? I only agreed to do it ’cause it got me out of school one afternoon a week, and gave me something to do apart from hanging around the recreation ground and causing trouble with my mates because I was bored.

But when I started the programme things started to change. My toddler was a challenge, mainly because he was like me; hyperactive and angry. We even looked alike, with wild hair, dark skin and brown eyes. He didn’t trust me at first, but after a few weeks he started coming up to me when I walked in and holding my hand. It made me feel special, and in those moments the big ball of anger I carried around inside me would get a bit smaller.

I’ve learned a lot about myself through the programme. I realise now the consequences of my actions on others, and I’m not so hell bent on trying to hurt people, mentally and physically. I feel more responsible, more in control. I want to achieve in life. I want to be a success. But above all else I want people to look at me and, instead of seeing the clown, the troublemaker or the joker, I want them to see the responsible man I can and will become.

The beautiful sunset on the last night of my recent trip to Italy.