That Pesky Little Thing Called Growing Up

January 28, 2010

By Brittany Howard, Arden Professional Apprentice

I was lucky enough over the holidays to spend a few days back in my home state of Texas where I slept a little, saw my middle sister get married, and played with my nieces and nephews, including baby Lily, who was born shortly before I made the 1600 mile journey to Philadelphia. I was overwhelmed with how much those kids had changed. The oldest, Emily, can now read. Aaron, at four-years-old, is far more skilled at Mario Kart than I could ever hope to be. And wide-eyed Lily, who did little more than blink up at me cutely before I left, now chatters with a language all her own.

I have to say, watching someone grow up is much more enjoyable than actually doing the growing. That period in life – when one comes of age – has inspired some of the most unforgettable stories in every avenue of the arts. What is it that makes the art of growing up (and believe me, it is an art form all its own) so magical? Is it because in adolescence every new development is either a triumph or a tragedy? Or because kids feel emotions so much stronger and more openly than adults? Whatever it is – it is this magic that lives and breathes in the Arden’s production of Peter Pan, even if Peter Pan himself doesn’t actually grow up.

Through all the times I’ve watched this play (and trust me, that’s a great many), my favorite line is still in the final fight scene between Hook and Peter. Hook is outdone, and gasping, asks, “What fiend is fighting me?” A little part of me cheers every time Peter answers, “I am youth! I am joy! I’m the little bird that’s broken out of the egg!”


I’ve come to believe that it is joy that lies at the root of this magic.

Peter Pan did not say, “I am happiness!” In fact, adolescence is almost certainly the most painful, awkward, troublesome, and stressful part of life. Peter Pan did not say that being a kid is easy. On the contrary, for a baby bird, breaking out of the egg might just be the hardest thing to do. But somehow, miraculously, the shell breaks, and in its place is nothing but supreme joy. For some that joy comes from overcoming the obstacles of a bad childhood, for others it’s remembering those fun-filled years with fondness, for many it’s attempting to make childhood dreams a reality. This joy can come immediately, or surface years down the road.

I won’t lie. I’m not quite adjusted to this whole “adult” thing, and by extension, I’m pretty terrible at it. My apartment is a mess. I have to leave myself notes everywhere to make sure I pay the bills on time. And my kitchen is pretty much empty of anything that isn’t microwaveable. I’m at that place where being a grown up is sort of like breaking in a new pair of shoes. It’s a little uncomfortable, but the old shoes don’t fit anymore so I have no choice.

I’m sure at some point, those new shoes will fit perfectly, but for now, I’m content to cheer on the boy-who-would-not-grow-up in his battles against the fearsome Captain Hook. I’m happy to sit in the back of the theatre, mouthing the words under my breath, memorizing the way it feels to be young, and have an entire life, an entire world, and an entire adventure ahead of me.

I may not technically be “youth” anymore, but I’m pretty sure I’m still joy.

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