Live Through This

Baby in a Corner

On being a perpetual kid.

When junior high rolled around, coolness, not sweetness, became the social currency: my friends at school were now ditching anything that smacked of little-kid-ness, I was still content with coloring and befriending my language arts teacher. School dances came into our lives, and with them, the beginning of dating and all of the drama that went along with it. Because I seemed shrimpy and immature, I was not chosen to play the role of girlfriend to anybody else. So instead of pairing up with a partner for slow dances, I’d fall back on my socially sanctioned part, trying to make my friends laugh by dancing to Kanye…it was funny in the same way that this is funny—like watching a toddler try on her mom’s high heels, an adorable mimicry of a mature behavior by an obviously immature person. Of course, to me now, everyone at a junior high dance looks endearingly awkward, but the kids there see the distinctions, and everyone at my dances knew I was the smallest, the silliest, the most childish—I was a toddler in high heels. No one was gonna take me seriously at a dance, so I played to their expectations—and I have to admit it was fun.

My social life changed when I was 12 and started listening to the college radio stations. I fell in love with a handful of local bands I was hearing, and started going to rock & roll shows on the regular. I became part of the scene just by being at every all-ages events in Seattle, chatting up any band and meeting their friends and other fans. I was head-over-heels about this new world I had found. Going to clubs with bars and unmarked underground venues felt very grown-up. But I was the Baby even in this scene—I was younger than everyone else, for starters, and my pure, uncynical dedication to the music and the community around it distinguished me from the seasoned music fans I was befriending.

This was the first time my babyness was neither a handicap nor a consolation prize—it was accepted, and even appreciated, by my new friends. Bands loved me; they started putting me on their guest lists for all-ages shows, giving me shout-outs from the stage, and sending me postcards from the road. All of a sudden being the kid was getting me the kind of affirmation that was indispensible to a shy, insecure junior-high kid.

Social roles are like scripted parts—mine dictated how I saw myself and how others saw me. These days, my childlike tendencies have cemented into my persona, the character I play every day. It feels natural to me to always be “the young one.” I have a group of friends who are all about five years older than me, half of whom have no idea I’m still only 20, and I still see myself in this kiddo role—they’re these bad-ass girls who are super cool and beautiful, and I’m the cute one. They wear leather and fur, I wear denim and floral print. They go on tour with their boyfriends’ bands, while I have food-related nicknames for my crushes (’sup, Pizza Babe…how’s the weather over there, Milkshake?). When we meet for brunch at our diner in the city, everyone orders real food and I request a chocolate malt for breakfast. I’m like a permanent little kid.

But I sometimes I wonder what my “real” personality is. Have I been playing a role this whole time that was assigned to me arbitrarily when I was little, or do I just have an inherently childlike personality? Because there are other parts of me that people don’t seem to acknowledge because they don’t fit the character I’ve been playing all this time. And I wonder if that makes me give those parts of me short shrift as well.

When I was about 15, anxious to enter my TEEN EXPERIMENTAL PHASE, I started to party. But even when I was doing “adult” things like drinking, I wasn’t treated the same as everyone else. My first few beers ever were consumed at an older friend’s 18th birthday party, and were chronicled through Polaroids and Myspace bulletins, as though my friends were keeping a Baby’s First book on me. My older buddies definitely looked out for me, which was a blessing. One of my closest friends, a vintage-shop owner in her mid-30s, would always put me in her incredible fashion shows—these huge, glorious extravaganzas that brought everyone from the city’s music, art, and fashion scenes together to party—but even though I was eager to join them, she would never let me drink at these events. Even with my best friend in high school, who was only one year older than me but a super cool, babely musician, I often ended up being the cute, innocent foil to her hip, rebel-girl persona. For every cigarette break she’d take, I’d tag along with a stick of gum to chew to have something to do. And she was always the one whose number people would try to get, and who would be told where the afterparty was going to be. I wasn’t always comfortable being her sidekick. I wanted to be the one invited to the afterparties.

I was the last person in my cohort to turn six, then 16, and now—the last birthday that counts for anything—21. I’ve seen this whole baby thing play out in a number of different social situations, all influenced by the stamp of immaturity I got in kindergarten. But how long can this really last? Can a person still be a baby when they’re old? Can I sustain this persona into the rest of my 20s, or my 30s? My 60s?

Things are starting to get complicated now, because for the first time I’m actually making friends who are younger than me, whether they’re sophomores in my classes or underage kids I meet at music festivals. It’s bizarre for me to feel like I’m in a position to provide advice to young’uns or to be— holy crap—a “role model” to younger people who want to do the things that I do, like make art or live in a city or whatever. I can’t function as the adorable child in that situation! But that’s OK to me—being the Baby thing no longer defines my place in the world; it’s just the flavor of my personality. I’m nobody’s little kid; I’m just a childlike human who lives in a magical universe of wonder. I’m no longer afraid of growing up. I’ve scripted my own part—a confident, responsible adult who keeps part of herself in a childlike state, which my decidedly adult life and helps me appreciate the world and make art and stuff. I just happen to be a little kid on the inside, and I’ll never outgrow that. ♦

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16 Comments

  • thebrownette April 9th, 2013 11:47 PM

    i really loved this article<3

  • Hazel April 9th, 2013 11:57 PM

    <3

    Loooooove this Dylan

  • Janie April 10th, 2013 12:19 AM

    I love this article! As a younger sibling I always find myself enjoying cartoons, bubbles, candy, pastels, and jumper-dresses over peter pan collar shirts. I always felt frustrated though because I felt like the role of “Baby” had become the reason why I like the things I do, too. This helped me realize that “I’m nobody’s little kid; I’m just a childlike human who lives in a magical universe of wonder.” (Perfect description by the way)

  • Sarah Allison April 10th, 2013 12:39 AM

    amazing

  • sugarmilz April 10th, 2013 2:44 AM

    I love this and can really relate, seeing as I am one of the youngest and shortest in my year.

    sugarmilz.blogspot.co.uk

  • Runaway April 10th, 2013 9:17 AM

    I can relate to this piece of writing so much. I wasn’t the youngest at my school, but my brother and me are 9 years apart. I was definitely too sheltered as a child, which made me be horribly shy. It’s taken me so long to overcome the role of the shy one. I’m still socially awkward, but it’s getting better!

  • Yayo April 10th, 2013 10:47 AM

    I relate so much to this – and everything you do is like, crazy well-written Dylan.

    I always thought of myself as the baby too, only now at almost 16 the cutesy factor has gone and I just see myself as awkward and childish. It’s a great place to be.

    I have a late August birthday and until a couple of years ago I was so out of proportion with my classmates I literally looked about 3 years younger. I WAS ALWAYS BUBBLE TOO! I actually got pissy if somebody else dared to take my place.
    I was happy being the baby until I was about 12 and one of my friends in the year above me bought some black leather skinny jeans. She looked so… grown up and sexy in them at the time, and it made me so sad I could never pull them off.

    My little sister is close to 5 years younger so I never really got a chance to embrace the big sister role before I started school. Even now I feel like I’ve let her down in a way – I’ll never be the cool, mature older sister who teacher her about boys and periods and makeup – the sister I wish I had. It makes me sad.

  • Dino April 10th, 2013 11:59 AM

    My birthday’s the 24th of August too! :)

  • Tourdivoire April 10th, 2013 12:29 PM

    Hi Dylan,
    I can totally identify with you, and since I’m a bit older, I can also tell you that it’s actually great to be too old to fit your baby costume.

    I am the youngest in a family of five children, so I was obviously ‘the baby’ to everyone. My sisters mistakenly call their own kids by my name now, because it feels so natural to them to be calling babies that.
    Having skipped a year at school, I was also the youngest in my grade, which made me feel special. I had a young face, but got really tall really fast (I was 6′ by the age of 12), plus I usually hung out with older people, so it was always fun to watch people get shocked when they learned that I was so young.

    In high school, I got the first bitter taste of being ‘the baby’: some kids who had repeated several grades saw me as an annoying reminder of their being too old for school; I also met a friend who was only three months older than me, which made me feel like she was stealing my thing a little bit, and I realised that I let it define me too much.

    As a student, two days before turning 18, a friend from my choir told me she was 15: she was my first younger friend. This was the moment I understood that I wasn’t going to be able to use that baby character all my life, so I just dropped it.

    I’m telling you: it’s not that hard. You’ll always have a part to play when you feel uncomfortable, but ‘the baby’ isn’t my favourite costume anymore. I still do lots of childlike things, but I do them because I love them, not because people expect me to. Not being the baby doesn’t mean you have to be an old hag!

  • Sarah Hendricks April 10th, 2013 1:45 PM

    The universe must have directed me to this article! How neat!

    I was just sittin here, congratulating myself on taking care of myself in a new profound way, thinking about what it means to be young and feel such infinite growth continuously.

    There is a reason you gravitated towards older persons, you have a fierce desire to learn and a gift to give in your presence. What wonderful people you have surrounded yourself with! May you relish in your ability to connect. Youth is magical, I often feel so grateful and see the shock and awe in certain faces when they learn my age, but so is any other identity we chose that allows us to be truly happy.
    Never doubt that you are perfect and loved, and can do anything or be any way you like. And, I say, if you have felt the need to take it all in, foster mentors, and remain youthful, that is a darn splendid way to be.

    Thank you thank you for sharing.

  • GlitterKitty April 10th, 2013 5:05 PM

    I feel like I’ve had both experiences: being the baby and the mature one.

    Where I live, you had to turn 4 years old by the end of the year to start kindergarten. So since my birthday is in February, I was 10 months older than the December babies who hadn’t even turned 4 yet when I started school. I was also academically gifted so all throughout elementary school, I felt like I was ahead of everyone else. I wasn’t desperate to “grow up” but I definitely felt like most of the other kids were immature.

    In grade 7 and 8, I felt like I pretty much fit in with everyone else maturity wise. But then high school happened. Now I feel like everyone else is light-years ahead of me. While they go out and drink and party, I much prefer staying home and watch movies. I feel like I don’t really relate to my classmates. Being grown up (past high school) terrifies me too. It feels weird that I surged ahead as a kid but am now trying to go back.

    Dylan does provide some reassurance that I’m not going to be the baby forever, but I feel like I brought this on myself. It wasn’t forced upon me like it was for her.

  • rottedteeth April 10th, 2013 8:23 PM

    I kinda have the opposite of this. My birthday is in early September which usually makes me one of the oldest in my class aside from the kids who’ve been held back and I’m the oldest child in my family.

    I was usually they one who was told to watch over the class while the teacher left the room, or over my younger sibling-even some of my cousins most of whom are older than me.

  • runningfilm April 10th, 2013 8:37 PM

    I definitely feel this, especially with the local music scene. When I started going to local shows, I was barely 14 years old, noticeably younger than the 17-20 age group of the rest of the crowd. Now I’m a senior in high school, and there are finally a few kids younger than me, but really, the gap has just shifted- I’m 17 now, as old as they were then, but I still hang with that same crowd and they are still all several years older than me. They watch out for me at shows (making sure I don’t get caught with my camera gear in too rough of a spot in the pit, making sure the people who catcall me know they’re assholes) and in the rest of my life (helping me contact the right people when my photography is stolen, hooking me up with shoots or models when I need them, and so on). This fall I’ll be moving to an apartment for college in the same town as them, and the goal is for all of us to get a house together after my first year in college.

    I love these friends of mine, and even though I am the baby, in many aspects, I think I might be the only one who notices.

  • barbroxursox April 11th, 2013 6:46 PM

    Omg I am literally you. I’m actually more near the oldest in my class, but I’ve always felt behind everyone else. I used to be the cute one, too, but now I’m just kind of blah… if that makes sense. I was always Bubbles too, but she’s my favorite anyway so I don’t mind. :P But I just always feel like a baby compared to everyone else, and at 18, I feel like I’m about 15. I never feel as experienced as everyone else, and it kinda sux :(

    http://lizard-onawindowpane.tumblr.com

  • Lydia Jane April 21st, 2013 4:47 PM

    agh, thank you so much, dylan–i’ve never related this much to an article. for such a long time i was considered the “cute” one among my friends, and i’m pretty sure i’ve experienced all the highs (“if anyone hurts you, they’re gonna have to deal with me”) and all the lows (winning every game of Never Have I Ever, which everyone knows you secretly want to “lose”).

    i think the worst for me was when the boy i liked–who i’d gotten to be pretty good friends with, and who i’d *thought* had been flirting with me a little–hugged me and told me i was like “the cool little sister i always wanted.” that was pretty painful.

    stay strong, fellow babes! x

  • izzii July 6th, 2013 7:09 PM

    My birthday is August 24th too and I really relate to this article, but I’ve found that actually, growing up with older people has given me a higher level of emotional maturity for some reason.