My actual age, versus the age I’m perceived to look or act, has always been an issue in my life. I’m almost hesitant to tell you my age because it will bring to mind certain stereotypes and they will likely not be accurate. I am not typical for my demographic. I am not typical for any demographic.
As I’ve already mentioned in my first post, I had an adult-sized vocabulary by the time I started kindergarten. It was very easy for me to converse with adults and I was often told how intelligent and even wise I was for my age. I remember people making comments like, “It’s like she’s an adult in a child’s body!” Unfortunately, it was not easy for me to relate to (most) other children. Their games seemed to be silly, pointless, and a bizarre combination of both overstimulating and dull. They always wanted to pretend things and I did not get that at all. I liked reading, painting pictures, doing crafts, and walking in the woods behind our home with my dog and cats (yes, my cats came for walks with me of their own volition). I did not enjoy make-believe on any level. My cousin had an imaginary friend. I did not.
I don’t mean to make it sound as if I were judging or disapproving of the other kids. The thing is, I considered them vastly superior to me and I would have been friends with absolutely any of them, even if I didn’t understand their games. Most of them seemed to mesh so well with one another and intuitively knew what to say and how to act. I envied them, not in a resentful way, but in a wistful way. They all seemed to be part of something that I wasn’t.
When I was 8, I was so academically advanced that there was talk of putting me ahead by at least two grades. There were meetings between my parents, teacher and principal where this was thoroughly discussed, but in the end, it was determined that although I had the academic ability to keep up with older kids, I did not have the required emotional or social maturity. This was explained to me without any sugar-coating. Because of my ability to converse like an adult, my mom had developed the habit of speaking to me as if I were one, even when perhaps she shouldn’t have.
Physically, I matured early. From age 7 to 12 I was one of the tallest girls in my class, usually in the back row of class pictures. (After that almost everyone surpassed me in height and at 5’2″ I am now considered short.) I grew breasts and started getting my period when I was 10. The same year, my family started going to church regularly. One woman there asked me what grade I was in and when I answered, she reacted with shock. “I thought you were 16!” she said. I felt baffled, as I really had no awareness of what I looked like or how I came across, but I also felt a bit flattered. When you’re 10, 16 seems pretty cool.
To my bewilderment, my early physical development upset my mom and my relationship with her changed drastically that year. She was convinced that I was fornicating. (Yes, that is the word she used.) She would read my diary to try to find evidence against me and she would scream at me to try to get me to confess. It was terrifying and confusing because she was completely off-base and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong to make her suspicious. “Fornication” would not be on the table for me until several years later. Meanwhile, my age and how I was perceived continued to cause problems for me.
One specific incident happened when I was 15, when a guy who was showing interest in me started inviting me to hang around with him and his large group of friends who ranged in age from my age to about 20. There was this one 20-year-old who utterly loathed me and didn’t try to hide it. One day when I found myself alone with her I asked, “Why don’t you like me?” She replied without hesitation, “Because you try to act older than you are.” I was confused and hurt. I answered with complete honesty, “I’m not trying to do anything!” I didn’t know why she was perceiving me that way. I just was what I was and I didn’t know how to be different or even what I was doing wrong. In retrospect, I can see why my precociousness could have been off-putting and even alarming, but at the time, I was clueless.
From age 16 to 26, I had a blessed reprieve from my age being an issue. It might be partly because I lived a rather reclusive life for a few years in my twenties and therefore didn’t give others the opportunity to tell me what they thought of me, or it might be because these were the only years of my life when my behavior and appearance coincided with my actual chronological age. Regardless of the reason, the next time I remember my age being an issue was at 26, but now people’s perception of me had swung the other way.
See part two to find out how.