Today was the first time I pumped my own petrol. It may seem insignificant but to me, it is a milestone. I recall fumbling for the lever that opens the petrol cap. Laughing nervously when I got it wrong and pushed open the boot instead.
It’s just one of the things that my dad does and I’d sit in the car unbothered, texting away on my phone. Suddenly, I found myself standing in his role, entrusted with a set of responsibilities that sent me a strong message: now I need to care.
My peers and I have been struggling to fulfil a whole new set of responsibilities. I have had conversations with three friends of mine who are feeling homesick. Just the other day, I boarded the bus with a friend who was rushing to work. I watched her frustration as we waited for the bus. She had to get to work on time and she was working to save up for a car.
These observations made me realize that my friends and I are all going through a transition. Apart from our student-ly responsibilities, we are trying to figure out how best to care for ourselves. With our families left in Palmerston North, Northland, Christchurch… or in my case, Singapore, home is no longer a space where Daddy/ Mummy/ Bro/ Sis can pitch in. Home becomes your rented room overlooking the highway, the way of life that you now get to determine for your own.
I still feel a shiver of excitement when I walk down the
aisles of Countdown. Peering over the rows of pasta sauce and determining which would be the best buy, a task that used to fall solely onto my mum. My unfamiliarity with the supermarket is still evident. I would often find myself standing in a row of cereal when all I really wanted was a bottle of dishwashing liquid.
Just when I was feeling proud of myself for successfully navigating the supermarket, I stood at the EFTPOS machine and fished around for my card. Alas, it was left somewhere in my messy room. No mum or dad to turn to for payment. I placed everything back where it was found, as if I was retracing my steps in an amazing race, and walked out of the exit.
I’d thought I would be angry at myself for being such a goof but I found a more forgiving voice in my head as I walked down Queen Street. That’s another thing about living with myself, I realized. I am confronted with the need to regulate my own emotions.
It can seem like a really daunting task to manage the demands of life on your own, but amazingly, I feel… free, I mused. I feel liberated with the knowledge that I can arrange to do my own activities at whatever time of the day, go places on weekends, plan my own holidays… I thought to myself, ‘Life is more chaotic when I am out own my own, but now I also have more control.’
Blending in with the people on the pavement, I am aware the rhythm of my personality, the tiny little idiosyncrasies that I snuggle a hug over.
I would find myself mulling about a ton of questions as I walked to school and back. See, that’s the other thing about the transition. With the freedom I’ve gained, there’s so much to examine with every decision that is made. I find myself asking when I wake up, ‘What do I really want to achieve by today?’ As I wait for the bus, I ponder, ‘How am I feeling right now? What makes me feel this way?’ And when I step out of the hall to visit the gym, ‘Why do I want to be fit? How fit is fit?’
How do I want to respond to stress?
How do I want to write my life story?
What nourishes me? What am I searching for?
How much do I want to give? How do I want to care for others?
Who is the person I am comfortable being?
The removal of the routines of high school and family rules frees up this whole space of exploration. In my lecture, we learnt that this is called the moratorium period, a period in life where an individual searches for answers before committing to an aspect of identity.
I don’t think all these changes have made me feel more ‘adult’. What is adulthood anyway? Is it something we will ever arrive at? Nevertheless, I can sense myself growing, probing. It is a bittersweet change that evokes rushes of self-pity, waves of determination and that soaring sense of autonomy.