The other day, my Grade 11 advisor announced that our class would be spending last period on a Friday making pet rocks. It was a declaration I expected to be met with grumbling and mockery from a set of high schoolers usually insistent on proving their coolness. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when our class—debate nerds and ardently masculine athletes alike—responded with enthusiasm, gleefully starting to call dibs on the best rocks. For the next hour, the twenty-three of us were up to our elbows in feathers and googly eyes, and by the end, we had a neat collection of oddly-shaped yet endearing chunks of stone. Though I still haven’t fully gotten the glitter out of my clothes, I wonder if there’s something worth appreciating about a group of sixteen-year-olds who are willing to sit peacefully and decorate rocks for an afternoon. It was one of those rare intervals where we are allowed to forgo any expectations of maturity and, for a short time, repossess the unpretentious pleasures of paint, popsicle sticks, and pom-poms.
For Halloween this year, I dressed up as a giraffe. In all honesty, I had forgotten about Halloween entirely until late the night before, at which point I scrambled frantically to the dollar store and picked up a cheap pair of spotted ears. It always bothered me when kids stopped wearing costumes as a proclamation of how indifferent they were to the apparently juvenile practice of dressing up—kind of like little boys who wear shorts in the winter to publicly announce their fortitude. And here I was, stuck in the melancholy realization that my life no longer revolved around elaborate papier mâché masks or the strategic acquisition of Kit-Kats. Halloween is a sort of litmus test for the aging process: we choose between ninja swords and neckties, between Hotel Translyvania and History Channel, between trick-or-treating and trigonometry homework. On some level, we choose between the people we once were and the people we are becoming.
Junctures like this remind me simultaneously of my youth and my age—I am young enough to wear a giraffe costume, but old enough to feel silly doing so. I suppose adolescence is the state of being squashed between competing expectations. Even so, these crossroads are valuable as moments of reflection, subtle points where we step out of life’s inertia to notice how quickly things are passing. It’s the same vaguely contemplative wistfulness as the first time you hear your parents swear, or the first time you get a strange look for ordering off the kids’ menu. Or the last time you dress up for Halloween, perhaps. In that sense, the landmarks of life aren’t just birthdays, or weddings, or funerals; they are also composed of these smaller (yet equally bittersweet) realizations that demarcate the process of growing older.
I’ve been seeing this quote from The Office all over the Internet: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” And honestly, I think there is a way. It lies in reflecting on firsts and lasts as they occur—not clinging desperately to bygone regrets, but consciously savouring nostalgia as it exists in the present. It’s worth making pet rocks while we have the chance.