I am currently on a four hour train journey and I am sat opposite a toddler. It is important to note at the start of this post that the toddler is not alone, a grown human that can only be described as its keeper is attempting to restrain it. I am assuming that this is a mother/son relationship, although they are speaking Spanish so it might be the transport of a crown prince by a loving nanny, no one can be sure.
I’ve been sitting here veering between uncontrollable rage as the tiny human dare encroach on my personal space, and bored fascination at this four hour documentary about parenting in a confined space; namely the Grand Central train from London to York. The more I watch, the more I can see myself. Not in the baby or in the mother, but in the wild loving relationship that they have. What I have been watching for three hours across the table from me, and what I will continue to watch for another hour is the best description for my early twenties that I have ever come across.
Everything in your early twenties is a big adventure, like my annoying toddler friend you pull down the arm rests with fascination and stare through the window as if a new world has all of a sudden been revealed to you. After years of doing what you are told by your parents, friends, teachers, books and Abercrombie and Fitch adverts you are suddenly let loose to see a new version of the world. It’s not that any of the components are new, you are familiar with flats and jobs just like the annoying shit kicking me in the shins has seen chairs, tables and windows before. But this combination of the world, or maybe it’s just your perspective on it, is crisp and new.
Of course much like the curly haired ball of snot currently throwing a chip packet at me, after five minutes you freak the fuck out. This new world is scary, all of a sudden it is all too big and too new. Why does everyone around you seem to know what they are doing while you have managed to Velcro yourself to your seat cover? You try to pretend for a while, you sit in your seat proud and fierce; your big drooling smile trying to shout to the judging onlookers that it is fine, you got this, nothing here is scary and what they can see is your world exactly as you intended. Meanwhile the Velcro has laddered your tights and when the train jerks you bump your forehead on the table.
Those judgy onlookers in your early twenties, they are the worst part of it all. I realise I say this as the girl who has had a constant stream of creative expletives running through her head since she sat down on the train; all directed at the innocent creature that can use an iPad but has to squawk like a bird to be fed. You spend those fateful few years always feeling like you are too loud, too quiet, too feminist, too stupid, too intelligent, too hopeful, too weird, and too mental. There is not a single state of being that doesn’t make you feel like the outcast that you fear you are and hope you are not.
You are at your most contrary in your early twenties. Thirty minutes into my seemingly endless train journey to York my short table companion decided that the iPad should be on the floor with crisps upturned and mooshed into its screen. While being restrained bodily by its responsible adult the young one looked me in the eye with the biggest ‘what the fuck are you looking at stare’ he could muster. Looking on I felt instantly on the wrong foot, maybe I was the weird one for not mooshing crisps into my electronics? And that is you pre-25, you are young and ballsy enough to let your freak flag fly, but have the power of utter conviction to condemn anyone who is not doing the same. You are constrained by your rent, your job, your bills, and the lingering sound of your parents in your head; and yet you try things you are brave and make both good and bad choices while silently challenging the onlookers to disagree.
Oh god the child has decided to audition for the part of velociraptor in the next Jurassic Park movie; even Chris Pratt couldn’t corral this shit.
For a stretch of time all is calm, the rosy cheeked maniac sits quietly and behaves more like an old man, a seasoned train goer. Your early twenties aren’t all chaos after all, there can be entire months where you function like a human adult and your flat is tidy, you pay attention at work and your nails are painted. Those months might be foreshadowing the life you have to come, or it might not. Your early twenties can be as much about playing house to test the waters as anything else. My year as a tax accountant, power suits and oaky Chardonnay making me feel like I had fully understood being a grown up; but that wasn’t me, like the child momentarily quiet on the train I was just trying that life out for a time. Doing what I thought an adult was supposed to do, it wasn’t foreshadowing my future, it was just a phase to experience.
Hours 2-3 of this cruel joke of a train journey were spent in escapism, our toddler friend fighting both his mother and the movement of the train; not to go anywhere in particular just to be free of his current state of being. Lord I know that feeling, this blog is called Runawaykiwi after all. In your early twenties your brain flips and all you want is to be away. Away will be better, you will be better. Escaping is hard though, it takes a brave heart and the resilience to take a few knocks. Like our mini chocolate smeared dictator currently trying to attract my attention – your family, your friends or even your previous expectations about your life hold you back, hugging you fiercely with seductively protective arms. Because, if you run, if you manage to leave all of it behind, the train will knock you time and time again. You will get up and go further than you have before but sometimes the falls hurt more than the things you are running from. The temptation is to stop, but whatever happens you are still on a moving train and won’t end up back where you thought. And the look of ecstatic freedom on the chocolaty face, that wide joyous grin is proof that if you succeed it can be everything you needed.
Small pooping thing is trying to teach me the movements to Wheels on the Bus; kid I mastered that when you were still moments away from being a stain on a teenage mattress.
Could I dare finish this post without mentioning tantrums? On this particular train journey we are yet to face any major ones. Oh there have been momentary tears that occlude his little face like the sun going behind the clouds, but bigger tantrums are yet to be seen (and fingers crossed they won’t be until after we arrive at our destination). The tantrums are a hallmark of the start of your grown up life too. All of a sudden it will all seem too much, how can one person be expected to cope with everything being thrown at you? You want to stay and escape, you are trying to figure our friends and yourself and how to read a meter all at once. There will be tears alone and with friends, maybe even at work and in front of stranger. You will get so angry that you want your fists to send cracks along a table so that something else shows the ferocity inside. It will feel like your world is falling apart. But crucially, quite crucially, it’s not. There will always be someone or something reaching out when you need it, comforting like this desperate mother on the train. Comfort might not come from a source you expect, it might be a tweet that hits you like a therapeutic arrow to the heart, or it might be a stranger in a bar. There will always be a hand ready to clasp yours if you reach out. Although like the toddler we are not always quite ready for comfort.
We do have one major advantage over our little friend (currently curled up asleep like a lap dog) is that we know this will pass. This is a stage where you are trying to deal with the responsibilities of adulthood while still shrugging off the last vestiges of being a teenager. For all my ‘worst case scenario’ train buddy knows this confined seat by the window could be forever, unbearably exciting but never ending. Your early twenties is your time to be as selfish, creative, loud and brave as you want to be. This is your time to figure out what is important, who to let into your bubble and what the hell you want your future to be. I don’t envy you, the pressing weight of your future can be unbearable; but it will happen and it will surprise you.