Breaking into Life

4 min readDec 17, 2020
three black children playing in a pool
Photo by Peter Idowu on Unsplash

December 2019.

Twenty, I watch the children in my uncle’s house with occasional fascination; smiling, because I see my earlier years reflected in their puerilities. We have just acquainted. The children, nine and eleven, call me ‘man.’ It is strange for me, being called this. I do not think of myself as a ‘man’ yet. I do not want to. I am fine with being called a young man. I like it, even. But being called ‘man,’ without the adjective to water it down, it’s startling.

I suppose I now understand why some old men refuse to get out of their jeans. It is a way of staying tethered to their younger years, a desperate straw they grab in denial of its passing. It is hard accepting the things you have lost (or are losing).

Childhood for me, cliché as it is, was mostly wanting to grow up. One particular reason I wanted to grow up was love — or marriage, or girls. I am unsure which, but I remember the image I had of adults as a child: tall towering figures who light danced behind, with powers less than gods only because they were human. Otherwise, they had all the power. They had the freedom to do what they wanted, to do things my parents would say I was too young to do, things they didn’t even have to say I was too young to do.

I also wanted to grow up quickly because my future was bright. (It is bright.) Everyone attested to this: my mother, the teachers in my nursery and some way through primary school — not secondary school; those ones had begun to peddle on their lips the not-so-gospel news that not all of us would make it. But before this, and even after this, when the veneer that covered everything for children hadn’t begun to fold back at its edges, I was reassured by nursery rhymes and the songs I carried with the choir on some Sundays: Colourful and is bright, I must get there. My future is bright; I must get there. I wanted to grow up.

I often find myself suffocating in nostalgia for the past, wishing I could go back to being five again, crystallized in that time, in my small body — tearing sprints through muddy waters after rain and looking for tall chairs to climb so I could reach the top of the wardrobe my mum kept all the motorcycle tyres she confiscated from me. If adults had all the power I used to think they had, I would wake every morning charged with joie de vivre. I do not. I have come to see that children have more freedom and power, despite the encasings they try to break from.

It is the tragedy of all children, I think, breaking into life, into the realization that nearly everything they knew and believed as children was a lie, that adulthood is not freedom and gaiety, and that the bright future they believed they had as children does not arrive in a package they receive once they turn eighteen.

‘Adulthood is a scam.’ It is anxiety and uncertainty. And the anxiety does not start at eighteen. It starts before then, when you realize that your childhood is slipping away, unfolding the way threads leave the bodies of the cones they come with when the tailor’s wheel calls. Or when you leave home for university and reflect, on the very few holidays you spend at home, that your room no longer feels like yours. It’s no longer the way it used to feel before you left home, and after schooling, it would not feel right returning to just sleeping and waking in it, under your parent’s roof, normal as it was before you went to school. You would be expected to do something with your life, plan for your future, work and shoulder responsibilities that just a few years before, seemed very distant. You have to worry about new terms, like ‘purpose’ and ‘productivity.’

It is cold and hard, especially when you cannot see yet, through the present dimness, the stairs you’re supposed to climb into your bright future; realizing that you have to make this bright future for yourself, because only a few people receive it in a gift box. Life is too short to sit idly and wait to find out if you’re part of the one percent who do.