While visiting my family in California in November, we were all stuck inside for much of the time because of the smoke from the Camp Fire.
As a result, my 12-year-old granddaughter and I got to spend lots of time together. We discussed a book we had both read; listened to each other’s music (hers: Twenty One Pilots, mine: Krishna Das); talked about many things; whittled some sticks with new knives; and I even got to watch her try on dresses at Nordstroms. So fun, and such a special time.
Now, I’m realizing how her developmental stages are pretty much exactly the opposite of mine. She’s not a little girl anymore. Here she is emerging, and I’m withdrawing. Her curves are unfolding and mine are folding in. She is searching for independence and I’m needing more support. She’s exploring her identity and I’m very set in mine. She has lived her life about the same amount of years that I have left of mine.
Beginning adolescence is the time to find a sense of self, of individuality. Many of us elders are a culmination of many different identities and are just trying to become more authentic on a deeper level as we shed old ones. There are so many layers, and it seems like simplicity and back to basics is what’s important now.
The exploration of identity in adolescence manifests itself in how one appears to others. It’s the classic “person one is” conflicting with “the person society expects one to become,” says Eric Erikson, the developmental psychologist. Fitting in, appearances, the peer group, peer music, peer trends are all-important. It’s the search for the outer continuity matching the inner one. Oh, my heart aches thinking about those difficult years.
My granddaughter has a fierce attitude about growing her hair as long as possible, not wearing the trendy clothes and developing her own style. Good for her. She may experiment with many roles before she’s my age. Remember the angst?
So here we are, not really caring so much about appearances anymore. This is who we are! If someone doesn’t like it, then no big deal. Good, supportive friends are important, but after so many years, I know who’s on my team, and I don’t think that will change much. Fidelity and the ability to sustain loyalties and trusting friendships are important to both of us, but hers will change and mine probably won’t.
She is also starting to break away from her family, rightly so. She preferred attending a concert with friends rather than with her parents. I want as much time as possible with family now.
She is training her muscles for advanced soccer teams. I am swimming for joy, fitness and delight.
These kids are at a crossroads. We are many miles down the road. My granddaughter’s excitement and enthusiasm about life is wonderful, something I can honor and learn from. She makes me think about my own challenges in being flexible, accepting change and being open to new things. It’s a privilege knowing her.
This newly forming relationship on this next level is precious to me, and hopefully, it will grow as we both ponder where we are in our lives. Perhaps, we can both discover more about ourselves through each other.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life and has written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.