Adolescence is a time of growth. A time for zits. A time for curfews. A time for rules and a time for them to be broken. Rebellion. Bad poetry. A time for firsts. First experience with alcohol - whether it’s your dad sneaking you a taste of beer, or a stolen wine-cooler shared between three friends at a sleepover, or guzzling gin in a friend’s hot tub (or was that just my experience? Anyone?). First kisses. First dances. First boyfriends/girlfriends. First jobs. First...lots of things.
Imagine the courage it took your teenage-self to tackle all those firsts. Never knowing what to expect and having no clue how to behave. There is a fearlessness about it. There is a certain amount of bravery and gumption that growing up asks from us all. You took risks. You took chances. For most, your adolescent-self was more bold and daring than you could ever hope to be now.
Looking back, once again with my trusted friend Retrospect, I have to laugh at myself. I have to shake my head, roll my eyes, and think, “I can’t believe I did that.”
Once upon a time, in the Land of Adolescence, I stole lawn gnomes.
Yes, you read that correctly.
There was one house in this one neighborhood whose lawn was covered in everything ceramic figurines. There were gnomes, miniature deer, a Santa Claus or two, and everything else fun sized and creepy. Naturally my sixteen-year-old me, and Julia (a close friend and fellow schemer), HAD to do something about it. Under the cloak of darkness we tip-toed up that house, in that neighborhood, on that lawn where the little ceramic eyes stare at you, and filled our arms with their cold, hard figures.
I must state, as insane as this sounds I still had (have) a moral compass. We did not actually steal anything...we moved them. With our arms clinching the gnomes against our bodies, Julia and I trotted across the street to the neighboring house and lined the gnomes in the next yard - one by one, ceramic arm to ceramic arm, like a line of soldiers marching to battle.
That’s right, two sixteen-year-old girls moving ceramic gnomes from one yard to another.
On our way back for the second round of gnome snatching we triggered a motion light. Then we heard a man’s voice yell, “Hey!” with enough authority for us to SPRINT LIKE THE WIND down the street.
I can imagine the man was not very thrilled. Some “people” were “lurking” in his yard and he didn’t know what the hell was going on. It wouldn’t have been until the morning light shined down with all its truth would he know - his gnomes were in the neighbor’s yard.
Julia and I had made it safely to the getaway car with only an abundance of laughter and the presence of urine-moisture (a consequence of too much adrenaline coupled with heavy laughing).
If Julia was sitting next to me now, as I type this, and asked, “Wanna go to that house with all the gnomes and move them to the other yard?” there would be no words, only that stare you give a crazy person who cuts you off in traffic and still manages to give YOU the finger.
I will ABSOLUTELY NOT move gnomes with you.
Why? I ask. Why did teenage me do it, but not mid-20s me? What was I before? Naïve? Stupid? No foresight? No understanding of consequences? No thoughtfulness? No respect? I can’t believe any of those things because I would be selling teenage-me down the river. And even if I did believe it - that I was lacking all of those characteristics before - what changed? Who turned the magic switch from gnome-swapping-girl to how-dare-you-ask-me-that?
As a teenager I know I was thoughtful, respectful, etc. I am also aware that as a mid-20-er I know a thing or two my teenage self did not. I have learned more about love, sacrifice, and that hangovers are NOT like wine and do NOT get better with age.
Still I ask, what gives? Why are my gnome days behind me?
I refuse to stand here and preach that all teenagers are void of compassion, respect, and the like. I also refuse to believe that I turned some emotional switch between the ages of 16 and 24. It is one giant process and I can’t point to one instance and say “that’s what did it.”
I’ll tell you what I do believe. I believe there is a freedom that comes with adolescence that no one can adequately describe or duplicate. The curious part about this freedom is that you didn’t know you had it until it was gone. You don’t realize you had it until you sit at the reflecting pool and shake your head, and roll your eyes, and say “I can’t believe I did that.”
When you’re growing up, everything is new - everything is a first. The freedom comes from being void of expectation. You were brave because you didn’t know to be scared. The world hadn’t told you otherwise.
Perhaps that’s the trick - not having any expectation. You have a first date? Great, enjoy it, don’t go expecting to meet The One over endless bread sticks at Neighborhood Pasta Place. Let it be your first FIRST date all over again before everything had to mean something.
I think people rarely look back on their teenage years with any type of romantic sentiment. But the truth is, there are things I did then that I wouldn’t do now. I had something in me that said leap, and don’t bother looking. Ever.
We all had our first everythings and the courage to execute them. The next time you find yourself facing another first, take yourself back to a time where the new zit on your chin was the biggest inconvenience of your day and remind yourself - if sixteen-year-old-you could do it, so can you.