Were those ‘the days’? Why I’d rather not be thirteen again.
Please join us this week as we read Share Our Voices Contributor Ana Rader as she reflects on her life as it was at the age of thirteen.
Here I sit, in a cubicle in my college’s library. I’m fairly pleased with the cubby I managed to snag—I’m next to a big window that somehow lets in crisp, bright light despite the dreary, sunless day outside. I’ve just made my to-do list for the rest of the week, down to the hour, which ends with me boarding a train bound for Old Saybrook, Connecticut. A few days, but many obligations, separate me from Thanksgiving break. Thesis writing, a Spanish paper, two job applications, finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, facilitating my last session with First-Years about sexual violence- today is one of those go-go-go days.
My phone buzzes, alerting me about new emails, text messages, Tweets, and more. Checking my phone has become an act as natural and regular as blinking, as breathing. This time, I notice the date, and realize that eight years ago today was my Bat Mitzvah. I both can’t conceive of the fact that nearly a decade has passed since that day, and am a bit awed and saddened by how little I can relate to the person I was then, how little I remember of the girl whose womanhood was celebrated at Temple Beth Tikvah on November 15, 2003.
Who was she? What was important? What was on her to-do list?
I feel like one of those old cartoons, with calendar pages ripping off and flying into the wind as I think back to my life eight years ago. In 2003, I was certainly not Tweeting, blogging, or checking my e-mail from my phone (did I even have an e-mail address?). Actually, I had just been given my first cell phone for my thirteenth birthday, a sleek flip phone with a black and white digital display screen. Unlimited texting plans were not yet relevant- I used the phone mainly to call my parents for a ride home, and, of course, to play Brick Breaker and Snake. I didn’t change my Profile Picture, I changed myAIM screen name, because there were no Facebook Friends, only a Buddy List. Thirteen-year-old Ana did not have fifteen books about transnationalism and feminist theory strewn beside her, the contents tempting, teasing, taunting her with their completeness, her own work halted by an extended case of writer’s block. Thirteen-year-old Ana didn’t have to clean her apartment, build her résumé, interview for jobs, grocery shop, research, meet with professors, or maintain relationships with loved ones in multiple states and time zones.
In this first moment of reflection, my tendency is to feel nostalgia for that time in 2003, and a bit of jealousy toward the girl who I once was. When I feel stressed or overwhelmed, it is easy to think back to childhood and teenage days and pine, “life was so much simpler then.” And yet, such nostalgia is really only the product of a rose-colored glasses effect when looking at the past. If I truly think about it, if I allow myself to remember, life at thirteen was not so carefree. For one, on this day eight years ago, I was becoming a woman in the eyes of my religious community. Talk about pressure! As much as I may feel stress and trepidation about the future now, life at thirteen was no less volatile. Not only was my social role within my family and religious community changing, but also my friendships, my self-perception, and my academic responsibilities. Though worries such as studying for an eighth grade math test, wearing the right clothes in order to fit in, trying to extend my curfew, and creating my Bat Mitzvah guest list may seem trivial to me now, they were still very real stress factors in my life at the time. Life was far from uncomplicated at thirteen.
And yet, without doubt, my responsibilities have intensified now that I am a senior in college. So too, though, have my freedoms. I no longer must ask my parents’ permission, but I do ask their opinion. The expectations of my classes are great, but I have chosen these subjects, I am learning on my own terms. While traces of adolescent insecurity remain, I do not wake up each morning concerned about friendship cliques or whether my hair is straight enough. Instead, I awake with a self-awareness completely different than that of my thirteen-year old self—one of confidence, of curiosity, and of appreciation for the diverseness and richness of life.
When I leave this cubby, the moon, not bright light, will be shining through the window. I will be tired and probably will have accomplished less than I had intended. I’ll have to revise my to-do list, adding a few things to tomorrow’s tasks. Will I get it all done? Sometimes it seems impossible, but so did learning my Torah portion, my Haftorah, and the rest of the Saturday morning service. I rose to the occasion eight years ago, and I will continue to do so. In the mean time, a new item of business has been bumped to the top of my to-do list: I must work on remembering to wear those rose-colored glasses not for envying my past, but for enjoying my present, and anticipating my future.