I must have been about 12 years old at the time. We had been invited to lunch with family friends, somewhere in a lost corner of rural Extremadura. It was a beautiful sunny day and our host had set up tables on the terrace, in the shade of the olive trees.
It was one of those days where it was warmer outside than in and, as ever, there were too many of us to fit at a single table. There to the right, slightly aside, stood another smaller table, which I’d been eyeing nervously as the last few plates were brought out.
The adults were busy catching up over drinks, the kids were happy to be out in the campo, noisily making their entertainment from branches and anything else that was lying around the parcela.
I’d spent all morning unsure what to do with myself, aimlessly wandering back and forth. Eavesdropping on the grown-ups was only fun if you could follow the conversation and while watching the others I’d only felt I was failing in my obligation to join in with their games, even though they seemed too childish.
Soon, the time came to sit down for lunch. I discreetly counted the number of children running around, then counted the number of chairs around the kids table. Seeing there was one less child than chairs, I sighed as I came to the conclusion that, for this meal at least, I’d been considered one of the kids.
So, I reluctantly sat down at the small table, waiting for the food to be served. Slowly the other kids stopped their frantic play in the dust and dirt and came over to the table.
Suddenly, with all the kids scrambling for a seat, I realised I had miscounted. Relief washed over me. I had been considered an adult after all! I was about to get up and change to the big table when our host, seeing me sat at the kids table, thought I’d wanted to be included with them and kindly fetched another chair. I was horrified!
I was a shy kid (shy is an understatement) and I could feel myself blush both at my mistake and the realisation that now I would have to sit at the kids table for the entire meal. How could I possibly inconvenience our host to explain that they had been right to count me among the adults, that I would have very much preferred to sit with them?
So there I sat, eyeing the other table enviously as I ate my food. I was sure the conversation over there was much more interesting than the tiresome babble at mine, and I could see there were a few things on their menu that never made it over to the ‘kiddies’ table.
Needless to say, the events weren’t nearly as dramatic as my twelve-year-old self thought them to be. But they have stuck with me all these years all the same.
Navigating the ‘adulting’ process.
The transition from childhood to adulthood can be difficult and confusing at times. While there are many new-found freedoms that come with the process, there are also new responsibilities to take on, new obligations to fulfill and new skills to learn. You stop identifying with one stage of life and step into the next. Yet, while a birthday can swing you into this change of status over night, the reality is perhaps more complex.
The incident with the kids table is one of the first times I am vividly aware of wanting to be considered an adult. Now, in my mid-twenties, I sometimes wonder why I was in such a hurry to grow-up.
It’s ironic, we spend a great deal of our lives wanting to be something we’re not. When we’re young, we want to grow up; when we’re old, we want to be young. When we’re students we long to start earning; when we’re working, we miss the student life.
Society often doesn’t help. I won’t go into cultural perceptions of adulthood or how it affects what an individual is expected to do or accomplish by a certain age, that’s a topic for another day. But it would seem the people around us are constantly bombarding us with questions about the next stage in life: What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do after school? Is there someone special in your life? Are you going to get married? Have children? Buy a house? There is always another question.
While these aren’t necessarily wrong and having hopes and dreams for the future can be great, I can’t help but wonder. Why can’t we just get on and enjoy the moment we are living now?
That afternoon, after we’d moved on to coffee and the typical chatter of the sobremesa, I joined the adults at their table. I sat quietly munching on some leftover chorizo while eagerly listening to their stories of a busy yet interesting few weeks.
Later, as the sun started its decent towards the horizon, I joined the kids in exploring the orchard and learning what had been planted in the vegetable patch. I may have been the oldest, but I could still be a part of the gang when I wanted to.
I guess this is why the word ‘adulting’ seems so fitting. It’s a process, not something that happens overnight.
With another birthday looming, I am more aware than ever of this. The older I get, the more I realise how much I am yet to learn about life. So, while remembering years gone by and looking to the future with hope and excitement, this year I’m also trying to enjoy each moment as it comes, the moment I am right in the middle of living, the little ordinary daily details. After all, these moments are what make up our lives, are they not?