What You Learn About Yourself, Growing Up

FOR a good four years, from Primary One to Four, I had pocket money no one would envy. It worked out to one dollar per day, sufficient only to buy two crab sticks or a bowl of steamed tofu with a starchy sauce, definitely not enough to fill the belly. That’s because I was one of the few students in school, including Qiao Ying, my best friend, who had packed lunch. I had, at least, one dollar, but Qiao Ying had none. What we were desperately hoping for was to have enough money to buy our own food and drink, just like everyone else. Growing up was a big deal for us, something our parents somehow decided, in their own great wisdom, to delay. 

The day I made my first real purchase at the canteen was a moment of triumph. Two dollars for a bowl of noodles with twenty cents change. The whole transaction was more meaningful than the noodles. Yes, I had grown up. It does sound pathetic, but at that time, it was a big deal.

Growing up is exactly like that. It is made up of little moments like this in our evolution. There are the highs and the lows, the discoveries and surprises, the dread and the anticipation, the learning and the transformation, and of course, the physical changes in the body. For us teens, there’s the whole battle against pimples. The boys start to get stubbly as their voices crack, and the girls are stricken with PMS.

But growing up is also about finding yourself. Four years ago, who would have thought that a pudgy, geeky dork would have made it to a cheerleading team? Or how an insecure, shrill-voiced girl could land the role of lead voice for an a cappella team of 14? It’s also about discovering my own transformation, and the surprise at how I’m better, smarter, and thankfully, wiser.

I’m no longer a compulsive attention-seeker, for instance, always making something a bigger deal than it really is. I mean, which girl would tell the whole world that she got her period, as if she had just taken a selfie with Ellen DeGeneres? And which girl would feign disbelief the entire school day after her name gets announced at morning assembly for scoring 36 out of 40 for her composition? “I can’t believe it’s me,” I kept saying. “I thought I did a pretty bad job.” Come on, please!

Today, whenever all these little vignettes of my once-silly life just pop out of nowhere, I frantically swat them away as if they were flies of an odious past. And as I drive all these memories away, I can’t help thinking: “Thank goodness, I’m not like that anymore!”

Growing up may be bumpy, it’s a journey, a ride that’s inevitable. You’ve just got to go with it. At 15, I still have have plenty of growing up left to do. But I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve got pocket money, I’ve got pimples, I’ve gotten my period, I’ve been a dork and a nerd, I’m not as attention-seeking as before, but I’m still as insecure as ever.

(530 words)

Lim Zhi Yi, Secondary Three
June 2016

For more essays by Zhi Yi, visit Zhi Yi Writes.

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