Live Through This

Baby in a Corner

On being a perpetual kid.

Illustration by Kelly

Illustration by Kelly

On my very first day of school, when I was five years old, I was given a label that’s stuck with me ever since. In every group I’ve ever been a part of—family, friends, school, work—I am always the Baby. Every group has one: the runt, the naïf, the, shy, innocent one. Like any social label, this one has been limiting and frustrating at times (especially when I need/want to be taken seriously), but to be honest it hasn’t been all bad. Even though I’m a grown-up, responsible legal adult at this point, the Baby is still a big part of who I am.

To enter kindergarten at my school you had to have turned five by August 31 at the latest. My birthday is August 24, so I was the youngest person in my grade. Think about it: when I began kindergarten, I had been alive only 60 months. The difference between me and an October baby, for example, was 10 whole months! That’s 15% more life lived by the other kid, and the maturity discrepancy between us felt bigger than that. I was still so attached to my mom at the time that I spent the entire first day of school crying. Pictures that were taken of me before and after school to commemorate the occasion show the same just-wept red eyes.

My teacher later admitted in a parent-teacher conference that, based on my emotional immaturity, she would have advised them to hold me back a year had it not been obvious to her that I was mentally ready for school—I understood math and was beginning to conquer my first chapter books—and it would have been a shame to keep me from my learning potential. My learning challenges were more about getting over my shyness and sensitivity. My babyness, in other words.

I was the smallest kid in my class until high school—both in terms of physical size and the way I presented myself to the world: I was cripplingly shy. I could barely speak to adults, I mumbled answers to questions in class, and, come to think of it, I was more attached to my baby blanket than I should have been by that time (I was basically Linus). There’s an old home video of a musical performance my kindergarten class presented to the rest of the school. I’m dressed as a pink mouse, in the dopest onesie my nanny hand-made for the occasion. It was not a speaking role, thank god. But when the time came for us to say our names out loud one by one, I could not get those two syllables out. I held the microphone in petrified silence, then hid my friend and shamefully passed it to the next kid in line. (I remained so shy, that three years later my third grade teacher advised my parents to make an appointment at the speech and hearing center to test me for possible impediments.)

There’s a reason I took so quickly to this role, though. My status as the youngest kid in kindergarten only reinforced tendencies that had been established long before. I’m an only child, so before I started school I never had any reason to think about my maturity level relative to anyone else’s. I had no younger sibling to set an example for, and no older one to emulate. There was no toddler in the house begging me to watch Disney movies with them or read to them, nor a big bro or sis mocking me for crying over those movies when I watched them on my own, or for reading bedtime stories with my mom until I was 11. I had no idea if or when I was being “immature” until I was put into context with other kids who were slightly older than me and my timidity and tiny stature became meaningful because of their difference from how everyone else looked and acted. But because of my parents’ early indulgence of my babyishness, I was totally comfortable with being cast as the most juvenile juvenile at school. Playing pretend with my friends at after-school care, I never protested being cast, as I invariably was, as Baby Spice or Bubbles, even if I would have preferred being Ginger or Buttercup. I was too shy to let the Ginger or Buttercup side of me show; babyness was my comfort zone.

Even when I was mocked for my immaturity, it seemed fine to me—like the people doing the mocking were right. This one time during recess in third grade, the new kid—whose socially assigned role had quickly become the Popular Girl—asked my group what we wanted to do during outside time. I picked up a jump rope as a suggestion, which appalled her. “Jump rope is for little kids,” she huffed; she’d rather sit on benches and talk, like older kids do. I hadn’t expected to be called out like that, and it was hurtful enough to have created an apparently lasting impression, but I didn’t argue because I agreed with her: I was scared to grow up and would rather stay young forever. I had my own hand in casting myself as the Baby, a role I’ve never outgrown.

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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.