It turns out that two of my three children will experience an official Rite of Passage this year. Personally, I don’t think these official ones mean all that much. They often come and go, with very little in the way of marking the event, other than a hugely expensive party, and a bunch of garish cards with a specific number on them. Other than that, there is not much difference to really consider a significant birthday a particularly life-changing event.
There are other events much more noteworthy than becoming a teenager or acquiring the Key To The Door; a quaint expression, now almost devoid of meaning, but still useful for those cards. There are all sorts of things that have nothing to do with birthdays but are far more significant to one’s personal journey. Yes, I mean the really big things in life, like the first time you are allowed to shave your legs, or bleach your hair, (or at least, choose your own style, depending on the rigidity of your parent/s).
Getting your ears pierced used to be a really big deal. Then it was getting a second hole in the same ear. Now boys still riding in pushchairs are sporting their first earring, teenage boys do vile things to their eyebrows, and most fifteen-year-old girls reminisce about the first time their belly piercing went septic, with the same level of fond memories I have when I discovered the unwanted presence of head lice.
Ah, the Rite of Passage. A significant marker in one’s life. A game-changer. The trouble is; there are so many I just cannot remember, either from my own life, or even worse and more recent; my own children’s. How can this be? They seemed so important at the time.
Take my first proper kiss, for example. I wish I could remember it, but I absolutely cannot. I can’t even recall his name. If you are reading this now, and you were The One, I am sure it was very lovely; please accept my apologies, and know that it certainly didn’t put me off doing it again. Thank goodness it wasn’t as bad as the boy and girl who shall remain unnamed. Following a kissing game called Spin the Bottle, they left the room to do the deed, and he promptly threw up. The poor girl never lived it down.
Passing your driving test seems to be quite a big deal. Again, I don’t remember the specific event terribly well. I do recall shortly after, borrowing my sister’s car with an embarrassingly age-defining Pull-Out-Choke. I had parked on Fitzjohn’s Avenue. The rush-hour traffic steamed along in a seamless trail down the steep hill in Hampstead; lone occupants inside their anonymous moving boxes waging their own churlish attempt at creating an invincible defence against a potential interloper; thus I discovered my ability to manage frustration, as my own tiny vehicle slipped and spluttered on the ice, until I too merged and became part of the impenetrable metal serpent of bad tempered and ungracious commuters. But even to this day, it is as if a Mind-Meld takes place, and once we join as another hinge of the Solidarity Snake of Traffic, we too close ranks against the next. Bonkers…
I don’t believe I remember my children’s first words, or when they said them. I do not recall their first steps, just that they “cruised” around furniture and then let go, and it was of course, completely wonderful at the time. I never weighed them either. They ate and drank, and they looked like they were doing ok…
I don’t remember their first teeth. The arrival and then the subsequent loss of the first set seemed really momentous at the time; phone calls were dutifully made to both sides of grandparents, and the news was met with much joy and probably a glass of fizz. The sweet little dress-rehearsal gnashers now rattle around in various dainty decorative boxes on my dressing table. My kids think it’s ghoulish; I think it is completely delightful, and take much pleasure in looking at the tiny jewels every now and then.
Last summer, I took my twelve-year-old son to his first rock concert, and the look on his face was priceless. I don’t remember my first gig, but I do remember seeing Guns’n’Roses before Axl lost the plot, and Queen when Freddie Mercury was still strutting his stuff.
I don’t remember specific holidays, but I do have fond memories of hot summers spent on the beach in Rimini; the leathery skinned man in flip flops, staggering across the hot sand, and weighed down with a large tray strapped around his body, shouting out “Gellateeeeeeee, granitaaaaaaa!”
And, I do remember the gut wrenching experience of getting lost, after I paddled about in the sea, and returned to where I thought my mother was. But each neatly sectioned beach looked the same to the five year old me, and panicking, I walked to the next one, hoping to find her there, but they all looked alike, so I walked to the next, and the next…I must have walked the entire length of the coast. Eventually, we were reunited.
My mother is a clever lady. She understands my memory isn’t up to much, and it didn’t bode well for the future. From then on, I was made to wear a bracelet showing the number of my beach. Yep, I was probably the first kid ever to be tagged. And by my own mother.
I wore my first bikini that year. Before that, I reckon we ran about au naturel. But now I had me a garment of gorgeousness. White crocheted flowers adorned the tiny little triangles. I was extremely proud. On its first wearing, I wandered down to the water’s edge. There I stood, gazing out to sea, and carefully removed the swimwear, folding it neatly on the dry sand, before wading into the greeny blue Mediterranean. My mother called out to enquire what on earth I was doing, to which I replied, “It’s brand new mummy. I wouldn’t want to get it wet!”