My mom’s favorite childhood story to tell is about our trips to the playground. Growing up, everyone was my friend, I knew it. As we walked to the park I would express my hope that my friends would be playing at the park too. My mom would try to console me with the gentle reminder that we hadn’t made any plans to see anyone today; I was never concerned. When we would arrive, I was often delighted to find my friends already waiting for me. It made no difference to me that they were always children I had never met before, I knew these were my friends.
As children, there was nothing dividing us. We had yet to develop our worldviews, find our interests, or create strong opinions. Connections are easy to create when they revolve around making potions and pretending you’re Percy Jackson characters.
I think that one of the biggest problems that plagues teens and young adults is loneliness. It’s easy to become physically isolated from the amount of responsibilities we take on as we grow, and mentally isolated when our own problems become too overwhelming. We often forget about how common the challenges we face are within our peers.
Little Rachel hated to be alone. I mean the type of hate that included temper tantrums leaving my childhood best friend’s house, hiding in my grandma’s car before she drove back to the airport, and sneaking out of my naptime cot to find my playmates. While I am no longer kicking my feet back and forth on the ground begging people not to leave, I still feel that not much has changed. Lost middle school friendships still haunt me, breakups quickly spiral into being labeled as the crazy ex-girlfriend, and the thought of having to create entirely new connections in college leads me to find sitting in my dorm with a laptop crammed with tabs of assignments much more appealing than being recruited by school sororities.
Through almost the entirety of my K-12 education, I impatiently anticipated college. In elementary school I often heard from teachers and family friends that I was an “old soul”, which tends to mean that you really do not have enough friends your own age. When I felt disconnected from my classmates, I was often reassured that graduating would be my gateway to community and confidence.
Being the one to leave this time is scary.
It’s not a breakup or a fight with your best friend. Instead, it is not being able to see your little brother grow up during the awkward years that are high school, saying goodbye to a school district full of teachers and kids you’ve known for your entire life, and leaving behind your 14 year old dog who kept your bed warm with her company. It’s hoping that friendships and relationships can survive the distance, hoping that some things can stay the same.
But it is also a new freedom of being away from home, being surrounded with new ideas, and a peek into what the future of adulthood holds. While I am in no rush for these last two weeks of high school to come to a close, I also know how many dreams 13 year old Rachel had.
I don’t think I will ever be ready to let go of childhood. My haircut looks more like 2 year old Rachel’s than ever before, and I still relate to the mice from any Kevin Henkes picture book. But somethings never change, and if anything, I guess that can only be reassuring.