For a long time I found myself being the youngest in my life, which is odd because I am the oldest of 3. Even in my family, though, I don’t feel like the oldest. I think we would all agree that my super-awesome middle sister is so put together that she often seems like the oldest. Like there was a mistake in the birth order. She’s the one that my youngest sister and I turn to because she seems to know everything about everything. I’m comfortable in the role of “youngest.” Maybe it’s because I’m not really that, or because I want to be taken care of by my elders, or I’m so mature that I can hold my own against people older than me. Over the course of my life it has probably been a combination of the three. Recently though, I’ve noticed a shift, I’m not the youngest anymore and frankly I’m not sure how I feel about it.
The first situation I found myself in as “the baby” was the summer before my junior year of high school when I did 42nd Street with the Scarsdale Summer Music Theater (What up, SSMT!). I still consider this summer life changing for so many reasons, but mostly because I met a group of people that took me in almost immediately. They understood me and my quirks and didn’t seem to judge or care. When I confided in one of my new friends that I had a crush on the lead in the show, who was two years older than me, who was basically the heart-throb of the summer, she didn’t tease me, or call me a baby. She made me feel like I was worthy of him and that there was no reason why he wouldn’t like me back. Which, by the end of the summer, he did. I had never dated anyone with that much status, who was as cool as him, and though it’s a cliche, it felt so good to “get the guy.” And he was getting ready to go to college. I still had two years of high school left. That summer I not only felt taken care of, I felt like an equal. My confidence was boosted so much just knowing that these friends that I had made loved and respected me as much as they did. I felt really blessed to be considered a friend (and even a girlfriend for almost three whole weeks) by people who could have just as easily seen me as a baby.
I was the youngest again when I first started teaching. Thankfully I had a young person’s bravado and was, frankly, too stupid to know that I was in over my head. Just the fact that I didn’t notice made me successful in my first year. My obliviousness and my relationship with my co-teacher who was 9 years older than me and my best friend for my first two years as a teacher. When I started at my school I was 22, the youngest person on staff. I was barely 6 years older than my students; we were in the same generation: wore the same clothes, listened to the same music, and could very well have been friends in another lifetime. When I look back now, I mostly attribute the fun that I had in my first three years as a teacher (the years that are supposed to be the worst/hardest) to the fact that my confidence we boosted again knowing that, if everyone there who was older than me thought I could do it, I probably could. Not that I ever questioned myself, I was 22. I was the youngest for a long time there and part of why I had such a hard time in my last three years there was because I was being forced to grow up. I wasn’t “new” anymore and I had to take care of the incoming teachers as well as myself. I couldn’t feel triumphant for doing something that was mature for my age, it was jut normal. I also couldn’t blame my age or inexperience when I made mistakes because I was supposed to know better. It was a difficult transition, but ultimately one that was necessary to me becoming a grown up and moving on.
I loved being able to surprise people with what I could do being as “young” as I was. It was a source of validation for me. Now though, as I creep up on the door that leads to my 30s, I am not the youngest anymore. I’m no longer the same generation as my students, and I’ve been out of school and in the work force for so long that there was no chance of me being the youngest at my current job. I was the first of my friends to get married, I have an amazing apartment that I share with my wonderful husband. Husband! Sometimes I still don’t feel old enough to have a husband. I look around sometimes and wonder what happened? When did I get so old? When did the shift happen between being the youngest to being an actual adult? And more than that, when did I become comfortable in this role? For a long time I still felt 16 or 22, never really my own age. Now I’m 29 and finally feel like I am that age, that I’ve earned my place here.
Teaching, in other places: What Does it Mean to be a Teacher?