When my mother was my age she was two years out of school and two years away from her first child. The only one out of four sisters who had managed to finish her education, she had come straight out of an all-girls boarding school and got a job as an air hostess where she met my father and started a family soon afterwards.
She was born and raised in the motherland so partying back then wasn’t as experimental or liberal as it was and has grown to become in the West. Even in the context of what kids in her environment would have distinguished as good or rebellious, my mother very much played by the rules.
I see how her upbringing has conditioned her way of thinking and sometimes I wonder if she ever wishes she’d stepped over the line now and again. I know her parents were extremely strict but surely climbing out of her bedroom window and sneaking back in before dawn has crossed her mind? And if she had dared to disobey, would she be any different now? Less conservative, less uptight and less ignorant to the pressures her kids have had to face?
I guess what I’m asking is, do we need to go crazy in order to cherish our youth and become well-adjusted adults?
By Tash Vals, AFROPUNK Contributor *
I was one of the last of my friendship group at school to experience anything crazy. My friends were leaving their houses in jeans and t-shirts and then getting changed into heels and dresses to sneak into clubs but like my mother, I never dared. When my boy troubles finally begun, they were petty and nothing compared to the pregnancy scares and infidelities of my peers. My woes were never taken seriously but instead met with condescending “aww”s and “your time will come”.
A couple years later and I had experienced things most of my early-bloomer friends thought only existed in movies. I was no longer cute little sensitive Tash; in my head I was complicated and mature and clued up on the ins and outs of everything ‘grown-up’.
I soon realized that I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, and the level of disruption in my life didn’t determine my maturity or credibility. Wising up wasn’t something I forced myself to do however, nor was it something that was thrust upon me. I didn’t wake up in an alleyway dumpster and no interventions were staged. One day I just woke up and decided that that kind of living just wasn’t fun anymore.There’s a kind of wisdom that can be found in a reformed character. A level-headedness that is brought about by hanging precariously enough over the edge to see the rocks, but being snapped back onto safe terrain just in time. You learn about yourself – your limits and insecurities. You learn to build on your quirks and accept your faults.
In many cases some people spiral completely out of control, but in other cases like my own, a lot of people eventually just grow out of it but recall those reckless moments with a nostalgia and satisfaction that life was really lived.
However as time has gone on and I’ve met a lot more people who haven’t gone off the rails so to speak, I see that this isn’t necessarily the only way to grow. Whereas stepping out of your comfort zone and shaking off your inhibitions from time to time is a healthy thing to do, we needn’t all look to Lindsay Lohan as the poster child for being young and free. Life lessons come in different ways, not necessarily through bad trips.
Cherishing your youth isn’t about topless partying during Spring Break or underground acid-trip raves. You don’t have to live a debauched life in order to be ‘interesting’ – you just have to live a life you can look back and smile at. My mother never popped pillies at Woodstock and sadly she doesn’t discuss her youth with much enthusiasm. But now and then she’ll talk about tiny – seemingly meaningless- moments she used to share with my father and she gets a glint in her eye. It’s this look that makes me think that maybe that was her version of an honoured youth. Perhaps it was things like boarding that plane to England with nothing but a suitcase and the velvet scrunchy in her hair - or that first time seeing my father 200 feet up in the air that made her feel alive.
That was her golden youth. Those moments fulfilled her, and if that’s the meaning of fulfilment to a hard-working 49 year old African migrant woman, then what right does anyone else have to discredit it?
* Follow Tash on Twitter @ohlookitsTash