When I was younger, everybody always thought I was older. Now that I’m older, people always think I’m younger. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been 25 my whole life.
When I was younger…
Drinking in the nsakas of the nearby pub was a common activity at the close of a long day of Peace Corps training. Most of my fellow volunteers had their beer of choice: Mosi, Castle or Rhino. A few had a softie: Fanta or Coke. And I usually had a box of long life milk or a plastic carton of Super Maheau.
One afternoon, near the end of training, two of us sat together in the nsaka, waiting for the others to arrive. Myself and the person I felt I had grown closest to during our 2 months in training. “How old are you going to be?” My friend asked, referring to my upcoming birthday. “23.” “You mean you’re only 22 now?! I thought you were older.” She went on to explain that she didn’t mean it in a bad way, that I didn’t look old, but that I acted older, more mature.
Now that I’m older…
My roommate, The Legend, is a bit younger than me. Just a few months older than Alfred. He constantly forgets how old I am. But he doesn’t just forget how old I am, he forgets how old I am in relation to him. He always thinks I’m younger than him and that Alfred is the oldest in my family.
On more than one occasion, we’ve had conversations that go something like this: “Alfred’s your older sister, right?” “No, Alfred’s younger than me; she’s your age; I’m the oldest.” Puzzled look from The Legend. “Wait, how old are you again.” I tell him, his face screws up into some sort of distorted I’m-thinking-but-I’m-still-confused-did-a-bird-just-poop-on-my-head look. He spends the next 10 minutes or so trying to figure out why he can’t remember that I’m older than him and all his friends.
In some ways, being mistaken for younger makes more sense. I’m such a kid at heart, I love to play and pretend and have fun. Mommy has referred to me as the biggest 5-year old she knows. To which Munchkinhead quickly chimes in that I need to be at least 7, otherwise she isn’t born yet.
At the same time though, I’m slightly offended by The Legend’s inability to grasp that I am older than him. Perhaps this is partly because I feel so much more mature than him. And perhaps partly because I have always been the big sister, “the oldest”.
Throughout my life, I have always looked to my superiors around me for role models and examples. For most of my life this meant adults, people older than me. These have been the people I turn to with questions, the people I watch, the people I try to emulate.
Recently, I realized that more and more often, the role models I look to for guidance are no longer older than me. They’re my age or younger.
This doesn’t really bother me. I look for people with experience and knowledge, and I generally don’t take age into consideration. But I have to wonder, is part of the reason people think I’m younger?
Maybe it’s a bad thing to be thought of as younger. But maybe I’m content to be perpetually 25. Half grown-up, half kid, all me.