In 232 days, I will legally be an adult. I will be able to vote in the next presidential election. This time next year, I’ll know what college I’m going to and be preparing to move out of my house. This summer I will have a real job for the first time, on staff at a summer camp.
The job especially makes me feel old. Of course, I feel grown up in much the same way that a 7-year-old in high heels feels like a big kid. As Mr. Neukom pointed out to someone who (at the freshman panel) said that the freedom of living independently was exciting, none of us will be independent until we start paying our own bills.
But I’m at a strange stage where I’m getting close to adulthood while still vividly remembering the days when anyone past puberty seemed intimidating and mysterious.
I went to summer camp for the first time when I was 9. My counselor, whom I idolized, was so old that she might as well have been a different species. It’s strange to me to think that she was younger than I am now.
Last summer, I was a counselor at the same camp. On the first day, as I met each camper, I could hardly believe that I was the teenager greeting parents and carrying luggage to the tents rather than the little girl nervous to be away from home.
Throughout the week, as a series of minor disasters befell my campers (Everything from a misplaced flashlight to a letter from home was a cause for tears.), I couldn’t help feeling exhilarated to be the one handling the problems.
But being in charge got tiring pretty quickly. I am convinced that instead of lecturing about unplanned pregnancies in sex-ed classes, schools should just give every high schooler four 9-year-old girls to look after for a week.
I did have a lot of fun, of course. For one thing, I learned that 9-year-olds find every mundane story about my life captivating. To calm down a crying girl (I was advised at counselors’ training to ramble as a distraction.), I described, in detail and with much suspense, a chemistry test I thought I’d failed, including a dream in which I got three percent. Since I ended up getting an A, the story was meant to be cheering.
When I was done, all four of my campers asked to hear more stories like it. I was struck anew by how exotic high school was to them. For the next hour, I amused them by recounting the minutiae of my existence, periodically stopping to ask if they were bored yet.
I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised by how interesting teenagers were to them. Once upon a time, my counselor was just as fascinating.
When I think about how strange an experience last summer was for me, I’m even more baffled by the fact that this year I’ll be a staff member—not just a two-week volunteer position, but a actual job that will require me to live away from home for two months.
It’s an intimidating prospect, not in the least because of how well I remember my first week as a camper. I swear I wasn’t as miniature then as 9-year-olds are now. Nor do I feel as old now as the staff seemed back then.
I’m starting to realize how far removed I am from the person I was in elementary school. Now I just have to multiply that feeling by a thousand to get a sense of what it will be like to go to college next year.