“Mr. and Mrs. Oliva, we just don’t feel that your daughter is being challenged at this level. We think she should move up.” With those words uttered from the principal of my new school, my parents plucked me out of my second-grade class after only two weeks and dropped me into third grade with the big kids.
I saw my life change before my eyes.
Many jokes circled me in middle school. My friends and I all ribbed each other good-naturedly, but nicknames like “Baby Casey” have stuck with me even to this day. People constantly reminded me of my age and how they interpreted it as a disability. Despite my awareness of this, I found it did not affect me all too much. I may have held the title of the baby of the class, but everyone existed on relatively even footing—until high school.
Sophomore year, while the other kids got their licenses and celebrated their Sweet Sixteen, I struggled with my developing body and other milestones that my older peers had conquered years ago. Going to R-rated movies with my friends felt almost impossible, since my age kept me from getting my license until senior year, and I lived too far away for anyone to want to come pick me up. Even though I felt just as mature as my friends, being younger than them still isolated me in their minds. I dreaded the all-too-familiar sting of an acquaintance casually asking my birthday and age, only to treat me a little differently after they found out. After all, what cusping 16-year-old teen wants to hang out with a little 14-year-old kid?
When I finally graduated, I had just barely turned 17. I would shed my seniority to shoulder the burden of being a newly christened freshman again in just three months. Florida State University did its best to come off as bright and full of opportunities, but it presented as imposing and alarming. Sure, I had dealt with my fair share of setbacks in high school, but I had also accrued a good set of friends who had accepted me for me despite a good two or three years difference. In college, I would end up utterly destitute, forced to make all new friends who would have to decide for themselves if they should consider my age a social handicap.
During my first week there, a Tally local from my orientation group invited me out to the club with her and her friends. I eagerly accepted. I dug through my closet, trying to find something to wear, when I suddenly asked myself a terrifying question: how would I get in? My actual license declared me 17—an age that won’t let you into a club. I didn’t own a fake ID, and even if I did, who would believe it? This baby face couldn’t fool anyone. On top of that, I wouldn’t turn 18 until more than halfway through my freshman year. Any hope I had of making friends crashed against the craggy rocks of my own anxiety. But, I told myself, I had to at least try.
When the girl picked me up from my dorm, I told her my embarrassing secret right away. Red-faced, I explained my fear about the bouncer turning me away and braced for her response. To my surprise, she only laughed. Not in a vindictive, pitying way, but a genuine giggle at my situation. She explained that since she would use a fake anyways, I could just use her real license to get in, and no one would be any wiser. Plus, she added, even if they did know, they wouldn’t care. She then went on to praise me for getting into college at so young an age, peppering me with questions about how I was able to do that and what kind of classes I would take in the fall. I was shocked. She didn’t see my age as a joke or as something that would hold me back, but as something endearing.
Since then, I have learned to embrace my age even more, to the point where even when people consider it funny, I can’t help but laugh along. At a recent Halloween party I went to, a group of guys stopped to take pictures with me when they found out my young age. Rather than let myself be embarrassed by it, I posed with them while poking fun at their age instead and how the older guys were still coming to little college parties. Coming to terms with something I had always considered to be a hindrance to me has made me realize how little my age defines me if I don’t let it, and to discover who I really am.
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