Growing Up and Aging Out
Recently, while caught up in a Wikipedia clickstorm, I came across the page for the new Spider-Man movie and found out that boys born in 2001 were considered for the lead role. As a proud baby of the late ’90s—December 1997, in case any readers want to send me a belated birthday present—this fact really freaked me out. I grew up with the lovably dopey Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, a glassy-eyed champion whose Spidey sense made all the young girls tingle. And when Andrew Garfield took over the role, I didn’t think much of it; he was just some Brit who would only half-convincingly play a boy over a decade his junior. So when I heard that post-millennium tykes whom I can only picture in diapers were up for the job, it came as a shock. Now, I know there are plenty of young upstarts in the world who paint a masterpiece at age four or compose a symphony in utero, but I’d always seen them as exceptions to the norm. The idea that a decent proportion of kids who didn’t endure the anguish of Y2K will be taken seriously for such a large role is rather frightening. It makes you reevaluate what you’ve done with your 19 years, and whether it amounts to much.
I was a precocious child. In second grade, I was given spelling tests for seventh graders, and eventually the school just decided to remove me from spelling lessons altogether and let me study Latin and Greek roots online instead. In fourth grade, part of my self-designed curriculum involved listening to pronunciations, and from time to time I would loosen my headphone jack so my classmates would “accidentally” hear the difficulty of the words. My crowning jewel came when I learned how to spell “antidisestablishmentarianism,” and believe me, I made sure my whole class knew it. I hope nobody considers this information braggadocious; let me tell you, I’d have much preferred to be a math or music savant as a nine-year-old. Being able to spell words with ease is a skill that has been rendered quite unimpressive both as I and technology have aged.
I often preferred speaking to adults rather than their children, and I loved impressing parents with my conversational abilities so much that it inspired the title of my memoir Parents Love Me coming to shuttered Borders locations near you in 2018. But you get the point; I loved being told I seemed older as a little kid, because when you’re young, all you want to be is old. When I worked as a hostess at an Italian restaurant the summer before my junior year of high school, I loved steering conversations with guests toward guessing how old I was, as hearing their surprise that I wasn’t 20, or 23, or 45 (a rather unrealistic guess from a seven-year-old girl, but I appreciated it nonetheless) was quite gratifying. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve slowly lost that “wise beyond my years” quality, as nobody gives a shit if a 19-year-old can memorize state capitals or make a coherent comment on the current political climate—in fact, it’s concerning if one can’t. I remember teachers in middle school using my tests as the answer keys to help them grade other students’ tests more quickly; now, that would be considered both lazy and presumptuous on the professor’s part. (To all science teachers who are surely reading this, please never use my exams to help you grade. You’ll thank me later.) Back in the day, my sister would love when I came to her room to recite The Raven every time I memorized a new stanza; now, she’d be both unimpressed as well as confused as to why I’m in her dorm room in Chicago and not back at school.
Now that I have a full year of adulthood under my belt, such behaviors that used to be considered mature and grown-up are par for the course. I’m no longer that little girl who relished the adoration of my elders; adult interactions are commonplace and occur without pomp or circumstance. Instead of having experiences where I’m viewed as wizened and worldly, I’m now reading about kids who have written the Great American Novel while potty-training. When you’re young and smart, you develop an ego, because you’re viewed as special and the world routinely affirms that notion. But when you’re old and smart, you’re just another student who is as capable as the next one, and you don’t get a fraction of the recognition or encouragement you used to. This change is probably for the better. Those of us bright children who maintain our youth’s ego also develop unbearable insecurities and the insatiable desire for external validation. We need those around us to shower us with as much praise and affection as we had growing up, so we are never able to question our self-worth, so that we have the undying metaphorical belief that we could play Spider-Man, ignoring that there may exist people younger and brighter than us who could as well. Coming to terms with my age—an ongoing process, of course—allows me to understand that though I don’t have the same charms as I did 10 or 15 years ago, I have every opportunity to make a name for myself now, rather than resting on laurels of the past. Just as some people fear peaking in high school, I fear that I peaked in fourth grade, but with acknowledgment of this fear comes the empowerment to do more, to be more than what young Bianca could. I’m coming up on two decades of life this year, and even though young Bianca had her own childlike allure, current Bianca has the perspective to know that nobody cares what you did when you were six. Present-day actions will far outweigh some minor past accomplishment whose luster has faded with time. Understanding your place in the world now rather than reminiscing about what you used to be will do wonders for your mentality, and though I’m still a work in progress, it’s already done wonders for mine.
Perhaps out of respect to insecure ageists like me, the new Spider-Man film didn’t end up casting a youngster after all. The role will be played by Tom Holland, a boy whose 20 years of existence make me more comfortable with his success. Then again, he also debuted in the musical Billy Elliot when he was 12, so I guess I still have some catching up to do.