At age 3, I was bitten by a dog.
When I got home, I lied and said it was insect bites.
At age 4, a transparent Barney bag was all it took to make me realize that some people are capable of judging you based on the material possessions you own.
It was the age that made me realize this world is one heck of a judgemental place. For some obscure reason, having an “ugly” bag didn’t sit well with a particular group of toddlers who were obsessed with Winx Club. Perhaps, that was my first encounter with rejection. It was the age that made me handle such rejections with a, “I don’t friend you,” and had me becoming playmates with these group of rowdy boys.
At age 5, an hour every day was all it took to secure my safe haven. Even at a young tender age, we are all searching for a place to – belong.
It was the age that had me standing on the edge of the slide – shouting as if I was on the highest peak of some cliff I’d never been to. It was the age that had me pretending the playground was a castle and I could be the knight, for once – I didn’t have to pretend to be the stupid princess.
It was the age that had me befriending the self-anointed “neighborhood kids” who would call dibs on the castle and sit for hours on end outside my grandma’s gate talking to me. The boys once boasted that they’d only shower 3 times a week. That left me in awe.
It was the age that had me legitimately disciplined for the first time. My brother and I were caught for watching the television and lying about it. First came the hanger, then came the broom. It was probably the first time I had seen my brother cry, like actually cry.
Mayday Mayday, I was next.
I went berserk.
It was the age that I should’ve earned an Oscar. I pretended to hyperventilate, pulling my hair. I cornered them and left them with no choice but to calm me down. I avoided the deadly weapons.
At age 6, the cursed feeling of fitting in crept into me. They love Winx Club.
“Mummy, can I get a Winx Club notebook and pencil?”
It seemed as if we were all in a competition to outdo one another in the number of Winx Club merchandise one could possess. Fools. I just wanted to be their friend.
It was the age that had me craving for independence. The kind of liberty to brush my own hair and extract my own teeth. I soon came up with numerous ways to pluck a shaky tooth – I was desperate for the dollar from Mr. Tooth Fairy, yea hi dad.
It was the age where I wanted to be Big Bad Wolf instead of Little Red Riding hood during Ballet class and went around chasing the other girls. The teacher told my parents I was disrupting the class, but I was convinced that she was just jealous because I stole her limelight as the wolf. Damn it. I was then instructed to act gracefully, like a swan.
It was the age that left me in my first dilemma. It was our graduation dance and we were to reenact “The Three Little Pigs”. The girls had all been selected to do a fairy dance in these golden black tutus (don’t ask me how fairies appeared in the story). Nearing the performance, a boy – supposedly the little pig got injured. The teacher broke the news, asking for a volunteer to substitute and play the role. I remember the girls shaking their heads vigorously.
The pig costume was hideous, in comparison to the tutus. I decided to volunteer. It wasn’t even close to volunteering as a tribute for the Hunger Games but it took everything in me to raise my hand. I was mocked for the costume, it was a onesie.
At age 7, I cried on the first day of primary school. Even then, adapting was crucial for survival.
It wasn’t the moment I parted my mum – it was during silent reading. I brought the book to eye level, hid behind it, and sobbed. That was when I learnt that you can hide your emotions, just hold a goddamn book up.
It was also the age where I craved validation from authoritative figures. It was as if being appointed class monitress equated to being elected as the president.
It was the age where I was first graded for regurgitating knowledge, the age where I was first exposed to the world of competitiveness. But also the age I realized, unlike my classmates, I just can’t seem to score 100 on a math test.
At age 8, a boy confessed he liked me and I flew into a frenzy. He wrote me a card for valentines day and signed off with the word “love”. Yuck, what does any 8-year old know about love?
I called my mum for 2 hours that afternoon, crying on my couch about this foreign experimental emotion someone expressed toward me. She laughed it off and told me to ignore. So, I did. A year later, he transferred schools and his older sister told me it was all my fault.
At age 9, I based my worth on ridiculous plastic trophies at the annual swimming competitions because I realized I wasn’t gifted in the academic route. Every kid had to go through this “Maybe YOU ARE GIFTED!” test. It has a pretty condescending ring to it, doesn’t it? It sure shot some of our self-esteem and morale down.
For the first time, I had a dream to pursue something competitively. But just like every other dream, swimming was short-lived too.
At age 10, the cursed feeling of conformity crept into me again. It was also the time I lied about my age to Mark Zuckerberg because having a Facebook account and playing Pet Society was the coolest thing.
It was the age where having a crush was thrilling. The act of passing notes in class seemed to be a classic way of showing your affection and pure adrenaline was when confessions were made through Facebook messenger.
It was the age where prefectorial duties had me living a double life. On one hand, I was in the good books of my discipline master. On the other, I was ripping my badge off and playing catching for whatever it was worth.
The age were I had a taste of an identity crisis.
It was the age where Ballet meant everything to me. But I was getting nowhere. I couldn’t do a split and spent half my time in ballet class making jokes about Beyonce’s songs. Despite my immaturity, I was still stubbornly adamant about pursuing Ballet. That’s what being 10 does to you.
At age 11, I figured I wasn’t a nice friend – or perhaps, I was just trying too hard to be someone I wasn’t. That was probably the first time I tasted the bitterness of betrayal in friendships. At that age, it seemed as if the world revolved around being liked and accepted by others.
It was the age where my Nokia phone meant everything to me. Text messages were well-crafted and curated before they were sent because every message was $0.05. I was broke then. 10 years later, I still am. Calls were sacred and kept only for emergencies – which really meant calls to my crush, even if it was just for a minute or two.
At age 12, I came to the conclusion that I suck at Math and Science. I was spending hours in my study room crying over math sums and the futile attempts to solve anything geometry related. I was flamed for answering science questions with flowery words and chided for writing it too much like a fairytale. My mistake but Jack’s beanstalk germinated a lot quicker than our green beans.
Every one of us had to take the “Did you waste 6 years of education” test in order to graduate. I remember breaking down when I saw my mark. That was when I learnt, comparison kills joy.
The nostalgia of childhood seems to be placed on the pedestal. It has been pictured as this perfect safe space in the most conventional way. Reminiscing memories seem to encapsulate this magical bliss – as if once upon a time is really all that mystical.
But revisiting my memories has left this bittersweet aftertaste. My years of growing up were not perfect, ugly to a certain extent but the imperfection is where the beauty lies.
She remained nostalgic about the old days.