Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

Living Life: How to be a Child in Grown Up Clothes

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Death and Life, by Gustav Klimt

In my heart, I am still four years old. I look at a picture of me at that age, glowing skin, exuberant smile, cheeky glint in my eye. I’m still that girl, running around the garden, kicking a football, laughing in the summer sunshine, looking for my parents’ approval as I explore nature.

I am still seventeen. Waiting for the results of my university application, tense with anxiety about how my future will unfold, studying hard to achieve the grades that will take me into my degree course. I’m full of hope and innocence that life will open its arms to me.

I am still twenty one, dressing for my first day at work. Savouring each day as I get up bleary eyed and commute across town to my job, my first grown up paid full-time work. I go because I am thrilled to be in the work force, not because they pay me. That’s just a bonus.

I am still twenty five, trekking across deserts to explore the world, arranging last minutes flights to unplanned destinations, free of responsibility but laden with hunger to experience as much as I can. I’m learning about myself, about the world; making friends that will last.

I’m still a child, still a girl, still a youth, still a young woman. In my heart, what I am not, is a grown up.

Yet when you look at me, you will emphatically disagree. You will tell me: you have a house, a mortgage, a car. And then eyes popping at me you will say firmly, and now you have a baby. You are most definitely grown up.

What exactly is a grown up, and do I have to be one? Inside I’m still the free, independent, unshackled young woman, who craves experience, joy and adventure. My happiness at playing in a beautiful garden, enjoying the adoration of those who love me, of laughing through sheer contentment still persists. But outwardly my shape has been moulded into the straightjacket of grown-up-ness. Children look at me and call me ‘Auntie’, the ultimate push into adulthood. How and when did all this happen?  Where did the days – nay, the years – go? And will I be asking myself the same thing as the golden days of my autumn set in?

These days – now I’m in the new mummy phase – life passes as more of a blur.  The morning wake ups, the feeding, the nappies, the crying, the cuddling. Each day is the same, but each different, observing the little life growing in front of me. Days pass by, and I lose track of the dates. But you have a new baby! You cry. You tell me that this is normal.

But this is not just about my current phase. This increasing blurriness of passing time just speeds up each year. Tasks and activities get planned, and milestones must be reached. All necessary, all admirable, all expected. We want to move house, go on holiday, visit friends and family, get a new job, look after our loved ones, drink a good cup of coffee, tend the garden, throw surprise parties.

In this routine which is made up of the wonderful, yet simple and mundane pleasures of living a good life, it is easy to forget the need to factor in living the good life.

Finding your place in the scheme of life is the first step towards doing that. For me, one of the moments of epiphany was seeing myself not just as a daughter, but as a mother, a link in life’s ongoing chain. The question is what kind of link do I want to be? And how will I ensure that what I pass on is worth perpetuating?

I can – and choose – to be contented, irrespective of the labels of child, youth or adult. Being a grown up brings certain privileges – the ability to choose how to live, the self-awareness to know your place, and the acceptance of who you are. But the best part is that inside, you can still retain the joy and free-spiritedness of being a child.

As for that four year old I was telling you about? She’s still running around with unbounded happiness in my heart, willing to embrace life and to love with abandon those around her.

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