Do you remember the first day of kindergarten, walking into school with a shiny new lunchbox in hand and light-up shoes Velcroed onto your small feet? The prospect of getting to eat that lunch at school, in the big, scary building filled with fluorescent lights and long hallways with shiny floors made you feel like a real big kid.
Then you saw the fifth graders.
The fifth graders were "too cool" for nap mats, they changed classes and carried big heavy backpacks filled with what you only imagined was the unbearable homework a 5th grader had to face. All of a sudden, you didn't feel so big anymore.
Upon reaching the fifth grade myself, I came to a realization. For years I'd imagined the day I would finally walk into school as a fifth grader, when I'd finally be accepted as a true "big kid," an adult even, that I'd walk down the halls with the confidence I'd always imagined a 5th grader would have. I imagined everyone looking up to me as I'd looked up to those above me for all those years, and I pictured myself feeling important, feeling significant.
The truth is, I didn't feel any different. I didn't feel any bigger than I did the year before, despite the fact that my mom had had to buy me an entirely new set of jeans to compensate for my ridiculous growth spurt. I felt exactly as I'd always felt, not bigger or better than anyone else, just simply me. I thought maybe some other year I'd finally feel what I'd always imagined the older kids to be; I thought maybe I would seem "cool" and put-together and like I understood and controlled the world around me. It never happened.
It’s been years since then, and while my feet no longer fit in my red rain boots or my Dora sneakers I still feel about as old as I did that first day of kindergarten, that first day of fifth grade.
I have pictures to show I've grown, and my Facebook posts from 2012 are enough to prove I've changed, but I don't really notice it as it's happening. Now that I'm an age that a little Virginia once imagined as very "adult" and "put-together", I often feel the opposite. I wish it was still acceptable for me to only eat boxed mac and cheese, to wear light up shoes and cotton dresses with butterflies on them and to color for my homework. In my heart I still feel like a gangly eight year old with the entire world at her feet and dandelions woven in her messy hair, and sometimes I look in the mirror and see just that.
Other times, I do feel very grown-up. I live on my own now; the power of being able to make my own choices often makes me feel like the world is mine for the taking while feeling like such a miniscule part of it at the same time. Sometimes I’ll go to work and get my homework done and make time for my friends all in one day—a combination that makes me feel like my entire life is together—and other times I’ll feel simply lost within the vast web of opportunities I suddenly find myself surrounded with. One moment I am a person who can take care of both herself and the world around her, and other times all I want is for someone to take care of me.
It's an odd position, this place in-between feeling old and feeling young, but in reality, feeling in-between is something that we'll always face. There will always be someone who seems wiser than you, who seems more composed and aware and intelligent than you. At the same time, there will always be someone who may not have had all the adventures you have, who's seen much less and seems to know much less. Because of this reality, if we stopped all the time to compare ourselves to those who appear to have "more" than us, we'd never learn to appreciate the parts of ourselves that truly are amazing.
Fifth grade Virginia was never going to feel as big and important as she'd imagined she would and a nineteen-year-old Virginia isn’t either. You see, some people might consider me big, others little, some might think I'm intelligent while others think I could work harder, some might call me "chill" while others see a drama queen, but I'll always be somewhere in between all these things, simply because no two people see me the same way.
Because of the reality of my in-between, I've learned it's most important for ME to accept myself exactly as I am, because I'm the only one that can truly know. I suppose everyone out there feels a little lost in a world so tremendous, but all we can do is focus on our own happiness, on living our lives the way we want to and not how other people expect us to. It is never selfish to value your own well-being, because taking care of yourself helps you take care of others in the long run.
So while I may not be the "adult" I always imagined I'd be by this point in my life, and others may still see me as a "little kid," I'm going to focus on using the skills I do have right now, at this point and time, to do the best I can for myself and others. Instead of wishing and hoping that one day it will all come together, I'm going to do the best I can in this moment, and just see where that takes me. I am a little kid lost in a big world, but I’m also a pretty tough gal who can face it head on—who can make it hers for the taking. Despite what a kindergarten Virginia might think, or what others might think, there's absolutely no one that I need to be or should be by this point in my life, and I'm learning to be happy with who I am at this very moment.