Life has a funny way of creeping up on you, reminding you of how quickly time passes and of how people and situations change, seemingly in the blinking of an eye. I am currently reading William Maxwell’s breathtakingly brilliant So Long, See You Tomorrow, for the second time in two weeks, alongside The Poisonwood Bible, which the lovely Claire kindly sent me to replace the copy I left on the subway. Both books are to do with mistakes, with the past, with regret, and with failure, and they have put me in a rather reflective mood.
It’s a bumper birthday week in my family; today my gorgeous baby nephew Freddie is 2, and on Friday, I will turn 25. I spoke to Freddie on the phone this morning; he can now carry out a perfectly sensible conversation. Before I left for New York, he couldn’t say a word. He was a tiny little thing, still able to be hoiked up on my hip and carried around, clinging on like a limpet. He was my baby. In four weeks, a new baby will arrive, and Freddie will be a toddler, and George, whose arrival when I was 20 was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to me, will be going to school, and he’ll disappear into a world we can’t share with him for the first time. And so, life moves on.
I remember turning 17, and rejoicing that I was finally ‘grown up’. I was in the Lower Sixth at school, working hard towards my A Levels, and everyone was convinced I would go off to Oxford or Cambridge and become a phenomenal success. I imagined that by the time I was 25, I’d have a wonderful career as a famous writer, be happily married, have a lovely house, and be thinking about having children. Well, so much for that. I may have got the top grades out of my school year, but my interview at Cambridge was a farce; I turned up in jeans with a South East London accent and found myself in a room full of be-suited private school pupils. I have never felt so out of place in all my life. They were all perfectly lovely, and I remember having command of the floor with my Buffy the Vampire Slayer impressions, but the interview itself was a disaster and involved me spilling water everywhere. I knew instantly that that dream had well and truly died, and so off to a less illustrious university I went. I didn’t meet the love of my life at university, like my sister had done before me; those I did meet didn’t last very long, and I was far more interested in being a feminist than someone’s girlfriend, anyway. When I left university, I wasn’t catapulted into an illustrious writing career; my morals having developed to bleeding heart liberal proportions while on campus, I decided to work for a charity and make the world a better place instead. So I became a fundraiser, and while I raised silly amounts of money to save the children, I took home just enough to feed and house myself. Buy a house? I could barely scrape together the rent on my damp, freezing room in a shared flat! Loves came and went, and no marriage proposals were forthcoming. I no longer had time to write, and the more wonderful literature I read, the more I realised that I’d never make it as a writer anyway. I drifted from one cheap rented flat to another, one mildly satisfying job to another, and here I am, on the cusp of 25, wondering what happened to the 25 year old the 17 year old me thought I’d be.
What I didn’t realise at 17 was that I wouldn’t feel any different inside at 25. I still feel just as useless at navigating life as I did then; I’ve just got better at forcing myself to be responsible. I also didn’t realise how much I would grow and change as a person, and that the things I thought I would want by this age are no longer as important to me. A satisfying career, marriage, babies and a home that isn’t falling apart at the seams and furnished with other people’s cast offs, are all wonderful things I very much hope come to me at some point, but I’m not really quite ready for any of them yet. I’m still working out who I am, what I believe, what I want, and what I can offer. I have my regrets, but if those things I regret not happening had come to pass, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I wouldn’t be me, and I wouldn’t be here in New York, living a life I never imagined would be mine at 25, but one which fulfills and delights me nonetheless.
The early twenties are a confusing time and I have certainly had my share of heartache and disappointment. On paper, I am a highly unsuccessful young adult, and have nothing of value to my name. I don’t have a spectacular writing career, I don’t have a handsome husband, I don’t have a home of my own, and I have absolutely no money in the bank. Oh, well. Tant pis, as the French would say. Instead, I have a spirit of adventure, the most magnificent family and friends a girl could wish for, a fantastic New York apartment with a fire escape that I share with four fine, funny people, and an award winning ability to make ends meet out of very limited means. I have thrown plans out of the window and instead approach life with a mixture of gung-ho carelessness and optimism. I am not afraid to move to foreign countries by myself. I am an expert at living with difficult people. I am excellent at small talk. I am an auntie soon to be three times over, and as such I can change disgusting nappies without hesitation, entertain bored children and make pureed mush look attractive enough to eat. I am, compared to the general populace, pretty well read. I know how to cook three course meals and have a vague appreciation of which wine would best suit each course. I get drunk after one glass of wine and dance on tables. I have learned to be a good listener. I fall head over heels in love with someone or something at least once a day. Small children make me feel misty eyed and maternal. I get ridiculously excited by blossom and autumn leaves. I like to skip through parks. I cry my eyes out in cinemas when watching films that aren’t supposed to be sad. I am always seeking to become a better person. I love life, and all its variables and delights and challenges, with all of my heart, and I am so excited to see what the next 25 years will bring. While I may have failed on every level to become the 25 year old I wanted to be at 17, I have become a 25 year old that I very much enjoy being, and am proud of, regardless. My life isn’t sorted, but I am happy. I don’t think I could ask for much more than that.
In other news, one of the great joys of wordpress is the ability to see your statistics and who is visiting you from where. It is through this that I have found many people’s blogs, who list my blog as one of their favourites, but they have never come by to tell me so in person. It is ever so flattering to find yourself listed as favoured reading material by someone who is intelligent, witty, and tasteful, as all these bloggers tend to be. One I found last night was Chuck’s Miscellany, which I think is brilliant, and I encourage you to go and have a look.