“Little Emily – that girl has got an old soul,” I overheard a friend of my mom sigh as they clinked wine glasses at the kitchen table while I, with my tiny tribe of sticky friends, scrambled around the house. “Ten going on thirty, that one.” They laughed.

I’ve never felt quite my age. After skipping a few of the earliest elementary grades, I was constantly surrounded by “peers” who were one or two or even three years my senior. Up until the end of middle school, I was part of an almost hilariously alternative education facility that meant myself and nine other kids comprised a whole class for most of our young lives. Though I was the youngest around, it wasn’t long before everyone stopped noticing.

My supposed maturity was exaggerated by my role as the oldest of my two siblings, which then became four after a bit of parental marital chaos. As homework-helper and ride-giver and lunch-packer and sibling-sitter, I tiptoed in a delicate limbo between child and adult. Kid or grownup? Both. Neither.

Showing up at my Catholic preparatory high school at the ripe ol’ age of twelve brought about its fair share of awkardness. Students and teachers alike gasped at my birthdate: “Are you like a genius or something?!” And dating proved risky for young men who didn’t want to be teased as cradle-robbers. Some other private schools had even denied me admission, specifying their concern about my youth.

But again, as we always do, everyone stopped noticing. By senior year I’d gathered plenty of friends, straight A’s, mistakes with boys, and even a Homecoming Queen crown.

I’d assumed I was in the clear… but then came college. Despite this newfound progressive and inclusive environment, classmates’ questions echoed those of preteens’ past. “OHMIGOD. You won’t even be able to buy alcohol until AFTER you’ve graduated!”Β As if that ever stopped anyone on a college campus?

Yet again, as is always true, everyone stopped noticing. I made the deepest friendships of my life, I grew as a student and a leader, I finished a hundred-plus-page award-winning thesis, and I was accepted to some of the nation’s top law schools.

I got married at twenty-one to my boyfriend of four years. We were mature, level-headed, realistic, and fully endorsed by friends and mentors who knew us best. But doubts aplenty were expressed, both to my face and (mostly) behind my back; and yet somehow I simply did not feel nearly as young as I was being treated at the time. It was as if my twelve-year-old self was softly reminding me: “This is how it’s always been. This is how it’ll always be. This is who you are.”

My guess is that it’ll take a few more years before my wedding ring stops garnering curious glances. Eventually, though, everyone will stop noticing. And in the meantime, I am living a marriage full of laughter, growth, support, and love.

At a certain point, I suppose I resigned myself to doing everything young.

A good friend in college once asked me if I’d always had an internal timeline – like this little roadmap in my head, matching major life events with approximate ages, that I half-consciously planned to fulfill. On hers, she shared, she would get married around twenty-eight; then have kids a few years later. I’d never realized, until she asked, that I had an internal timeline, too. And compared to most people in my geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic, and educational circles, mine is just a bit… young. I am living just a few units offset from most people around me, but that is the place that feels comfortable, authentic, and real.

Today is my twenty-third birthday. I have four incredible younger siblings, each charting their own paths and starting off on their own timelines. I have a good degree and the plans to get at least another. I have friends and memories scattered around the globe. I have a strong community surrounding me on all sides. I have a brilliant and handsome husband with whom to adventure through life. And I have growing confidence that, for me, doing things young means doing things right.

Little me.

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3 Responses to what’s my age again?

  1. tori says:

    Happy Birthday Emmy!! Insanely insightful post. I think you had to start young because you’ve got so much to do here on this Earth. And we’re damn blessed to have you :)

  2. Ellie says:

    Happy Birthday! I too always felt this way – I’m on grade level for my age, but I was interning and volunteering places while my friends were still working in coffeeshops. I’m finally at a point where I’m not the youngest person in the room at a conference or at a professional function, and there is a bit of a sense that I’ve made it. I’m finally feeling like the age I am and the age I act and the age other people think I am are matching up, and I’m hoping I can hang on to the satisfaction that comes with it for as long as possible, so here’s to us being the best people we can be, whatever age we are! Twenty three is a good age. Cheers!

  3. david says:

    i like your writing. i like this post. and i like that you’re a mature 23 yr. old who loves her husband. one day you will tell me about this award winning thesis.

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