Thursday, January 31, 2013

T-shirts and Roller Skates

When I was seven I spent the entire summer wearing a light blue T-shirt that had a rainbow on it, cut-offs, and roller skates. I don’t know what it was about that shirt that made it my favorite, but I know it made me mad when I wasn’t allowed to wear it.  The skates had been a birthday gift and I wore them as much as possible, whether or not it was practical. (Have you ever tried roller skating in grass or on carpet? I don’t recommend it.)  I wore that shirt and those skates until they were far too small.  My mom finally had to intervene and hand them down to my sisters, and that was one of the few times I remember from grade school when I wasn’t happy to be growing.

When it meant handing down a favorite shirt or something as fabulous as red-wheeled roller skates, growing-up could be a pain.  But for the most part, getting bigger was fun.  I loved measuring how tall I was in comparison to my dad or older cousins.  It was exciting to get new gym shoes, to graduate to the next grade, and to achieve various milestones like learning to tie my own shoes or blow bubbles with bubble gum.  When I could finally reach something around the house that my little sisters were still too short to reach, I felt so grown up.  (Of course, they both grew to be taller than me, so that was short-lived. Pun intended.)

I think most of us probably liked the finally getting taller or finally getting to the next thing parts of growing-up.  At some point, though, we’re done getting taller. After that, growing becomes less about physical growth or milestones and morphs into something more difficult to navigate.  There are times we are more in control of this and can grow with purpose, investing in ourselves by pursuing education or life experiences or new opportunities.  Other times, the growing is more chaotic and out of our control, like when the unplanned happens or when are forced to adapt to the results of other people’s choices. 

Whether positive and deliberate or difficult and circumstantial, post-growing-up growing is rarely as fun as getting taller was – especially when it leads us to the realization that we’ve outgrown something.  Be it a relationship, a job, a belief, a practice, or anything else, it can be traumatic to realize that something that has been a part of our lives for years doesn’t fit anymore. Things that used to make us feel comfortable or grounded become constricting or impossible to keep up. We have to start rearranging our lives to accommodate the changes and it can be disorienting and distressing. 

Had I been an especially crafty kid, I probably could have turned that rainbow t-shirt into some kind of keepsake or fashioned it into a practical and functional item.  We don’t always have to get rid of things we grow out of, not if we can figure out how to make them work with where we’ve grown.  Relationships, jobs, beliefs, practices – some of these can be transformed into something worth keeping, in one capacity or another.  A very few of these things are even valuable enough (far more valuable than an outgrown t-shirt, obviously) that we should invest whatever effort is required to keep incorporating them as we grow, albeit in new and revised ways.

But old roller skates?  Sure, when they used to fit there was nothing more fun than zipping around in them, laughing and feeling the breeze in your face.  Yet when you can’t wear them anymore, they are useless.  I suppose you could have them bronzed so you’ll always have them around, unusable and taking up space.  Or I guess you could disassemble them and use all the parts to make some other kind of wheeled contraption, but it really is better to just get rid of them.  Some things would require infinitely more effort and resources than we have at our disposal to transform them, and even if we did, the results would be heavy and impractical.  This is when it’s important to realize there are things you have to stop trying to lug around.  Get rid of those things and stop allowing them weigh you down when you have other growing to do. 

I guess one of the biggest challenges of growing after you’re grown up is figuring out which outgrown things are the t-shirts and which are the roller skates.

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