Gender & Identity, Life

I never understood my mom’s fuss about my turning 18

I'm starting to think that there's no such thing as a definite “coming-of-age” moment.

I always think of being able to navigate through the large expanse of a mall by myself as a small triumph. It certainly isn’t as grand as, say, commuting home during a typhoon, or living in a condo by myself, but it makes me feel accomplished and independent just the same.

If anything, I like venturing around the mall alone because it reminds me that I can do fine on my own. I like it because I get to spend my own money on things that I pick out myself, talk to sales clerks about products that they have in stock, and do everything in my own time.

This attitude toward mall solitude would probably be commendable if I were, say, twelve. But I’m nineteen, which hardly makes it a cute little “Look at me, ma! I’m an adult!” moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been perfectly capable of taking care of myself since I was little, but there’s just something about walking around with a bag filled with “grown-up” essentials like IDs and an ATM card slung over my shoulder that make me feel like a grown-ass woman.

In other words, it’s a somewhat empowering feeling.

Over the years, I’ve learned that we all have our own ideals of what it is to be grow up and be an adult. “Being a dalaga (teenage girl),my mom says, involves making a conscious effort to look good so that people take me seriously. She says that I should start wearing heels more. And that I should start putting on more makeup and dresses that suit my figure. Though I respect my mom and know that her advice is true to some extent, it’s also quite old-fashioned.

If that’s what growing up means, then why should I even want to do it? Can’t I still enjoy the same things as an adult?

Turning eighteen was this big event that I didn’t really get, but pretended to understand for everybody else’s sake. In the Philippines, the traditional way to celebrate is with a grand debut where you invite all your friends and family. I didn’t want any fuss, so instead I opted to have a small dinner party with some of my closest friends. We ate pizza and just had fun.

My family treated my eighteenth birthday like it was some grand transition to something greater, something that I hoped would be a new and improved version of myself. The truth is, I didn’t feel any different when I woke up that day. As it progressed, I did feel happier and more fulfilled, but there was none of the life-changing realness that I sort of expected.

One and eight are just two numbers that, when strung together, bring with them a couple more responsibilities and benefits – signposts, if you will. Eighteen is supposedly the age that a person begins to gradually stop depending on people – which basically means that you always have to remember to do things, because you’re screwed if you don’t. That scares me, because there are many times that I doubt myself and my own capabilities.

I’ve read enough YA novels and watched enough coming-of-age movies to get a grasp of what the experience is supposed to be like. Confused protagonist + some element that makes him/her start to like life more + a little twist = conflict. Of course, the conflict is almost always resolved. The only problem is that many YA authors make it seem like a story’s resolution is the same as a fairy tale’s happy ending. Once all the creases are smoothed out and every piece fits into place, the protagonist seems to finally have everything figured out – which kind of makes me think that coming of age is parallel to understanding your life’s meaning.  

The truth is, I’m starting to think that there’s no such thing as a definite “coming-of-age” moment. Lizzie McGuire says it best in the “Pool Party” episode from Season 1: “So, maybe I missed the defining event of my adolescence, but then again, maybe the defining moment is realizing that there is no such thing.”

I’ve realized that I can’t spend my life waiting for discernment to magically occur out of nowhere. It will happen when it happens, I guess. And even then, life isn’t supposed to explain itself. That’s not how it works.

For now, let me enjoy my little moment of independence. Because I can walk around the mall and I will buy my multi-slotted bead organizer and some groceries while munching on a bag of sour gummy worms in peace.

And that’s totally cool with me.