What it means to be 18

Stefani Woll, Senior Editor

I’ve thought about the day that I would be turning 18 since I was eight. Most people were so excited to grow up and be an adult. Countless years I spent dressing up as cooks, princesses, paleontologists and playing house. Playing house was my favorite. I never wanted to be the mom in our little game, however. I always wanted to be the big sister who took care of the little baby. I think even back then I realized that I never wanted to be an adult. I’ve forever wanted to stay a kid.

You learn quite quickly that Neverland, as cool as it may seem, is a fantastical place that you can never really get to. I’ve tried to keep this birthday out of my mind for as long as possible. That’s ridiculous. It’s an exciting birthday! I’ve been told over and over. Most people long for what they think it means to be 18.

They long for freedom—the individuality that develops because of such independence, a foreign concept compared to the past 17 years of life. They want to experience everything: buying lottery tickets, moving away, getting tattoos (lots and lots of tattoos) and even jumping out of airplanes. To most people, this is what it means to be 18.

It really is a nice way to look at it, and I wouldn’t say that they are wrong. Maybe they just have a more optimistic perspective about the whole concept than I do. But, this is definitely not exactly how I see things. This, to me, is not what it means to be 18.

In my eyes, I see something that can be summarized in a single sentence; to me, 18 means having to say goodbye.

I will have to say goodbye to the beloved wonders of my childhood. No more playing dress up and going on adventures. No more hosting pool parties or building forts on the couch. Pause. I know what you’re thinking. Wow, does she really still do all of that? Of course I don’t, I haven’t for years, but the thought of never going back and doing it again scares me.

I will have to say goodbye to all of my childhood friends. From my infant days to my high school graduation (which ironically might be at home), I will have to say goodbye to most of the friends I’ve made. I know the good ones will always stick around, at least some of them. However, there are also friends, I tend to call them situational friends, who I’ve become close to in the situations presented. For example, in English class we were always close but never outside of English. At church we were super tight, but only in church situations. These are the friends I know I will likely have to say goodbye to. It’s not that I want to and I have to, but I know overtime, distance becomes a difficult mountain to climb. 

I will have to say goodbye to all my childhood sports. Every weekend soccer game where I’ve travelled out to Norco. Every high school tennis match or soccer CIF game I will never get to replay. All of the other seven sports I have played over the years. I don’t get them back.

I will have to say goodbye to mom and dad. Please don’t get me wrong, they aren’t dying and I’m going to see them still, but I guess it’s more of this relationship with them that I have become so accustomed to. That will be what will change. We still will have a great relationship as I carry out my life, but it will never be as simple as times at home. It’s because of them that I don’t want to grow up, and I’m grateful for that. It means that they have created such a profound childhood experience for me that I don’t want it to end.

Maybe that’s just it. 18 is the end of the beginning. I don’t really want the beginning to end, but maybe that’s only because I don’t know what lies in the rest of the book. For me, what it has always meant to be 18 is that I will have to say goodbye to almost everything that I’ve known, and I will have to say hello to all of the unknown. It’s time to be an adult now, whether I’m ready or not. I’ll make due and do the best I can, trying to enjoy it all on the way. 

To be 18 does mean some of the other things though. It still means independence and still means freedom. It means the world trusts you now. It’s like I was a little caterpillar who has hatched out of the cocoon and BAM! I’m a freaking butterfly now. It’s just a change I wasn’t ready for and that’s probably why I set it in the back of my mind for all this time. 

I’m learning that change is okay. Sure it’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but there are always going to be wonderful things in life you are going to have to say goodbye to. So, I guess now what I think it means to be 18 is that you have to say goodbye to a lot of things you love, but at least you had a lot to love. This means you’ve lived life well. 

Good luck to all of you who are now 18 or will be soon! I hope that you will have a lot to say goodbye to, too.