I’m currently in Perth, Australia, on a two-week visit to my hometown for Christmas. A trip yesterday up to the city’s outer suburbs to visit a friend with a newborn had me reflecting on how we all branch out in our own directions.
At high school, I was a member of a close-knit group of six young women with the good fortune to breeze through the quagmire of teenage female friendship and emerge a decade later down different paths but still as close as ever. We were at university and house parties and starting first full-time jobs and ombre-ing our hair at the same time — but this week, meeting my mate’s baby and admiring new houses and engagement rings and listening to conversation about shares and superannuation and tile prices, I started wondering how my sixteen-year-old self would have felt about my position in this pack.
I’m falling behind, I thought, as I sat on the floor of my friend’s baby’s playroom, rolling a wooden car driven by an elephant across the carpet. They’re moving without me.
It wasn’t the babies. If children are in my future I haven’t felt a yearning, yet, and I felt profound pride and sheer relief watching my friend dote on her daughter yesterday, thinking, wow, she’s a good mother, and wow, I’m glad I’m not one.
(Sorry for that, Mum).
Nor was it the engagements rings, which sit on two of six fourth fingers and will likely adorn two more within the next year. I’m in no particular rush to couple up, and the fact that I’m most excited by the prospect of open-bar receptions and whitegoods gifts cards has me thinking I’d need to straighten out my priorities before the popping of any question, anyway.
It was something else.
I drove us to the friend’s house in the outer suburbs, picking up a mate on the way. She lives in a beautiful old floorboard-ed house in Perth’s inner-west suburbs with her longterm partner and a cluster of indoor plants, and when I arrived was cooking cumin-y pumpkin for a chickpea salad, listening to dreamy folk music on a speaker slung from a loop over the door handle, and navigating barefoot a green-eyed cat waiting at her ankles for a piece of food to fall. She took a bag of cashews from the pantry for car snacks, and apologised: “They’re not salted; they’re just for cooking.” What does she make with them? “Nut milk, mostly.” Long blonde hair over her shoulders as she slips on Birkenstocks at the front door and swings the heavy wooden door shut behind her.
Later, she shows me a screenshot of the linocut art piece she’s looking at buying for the house. “I want to make my own, too, but lino’s so expensive.”
When we arrived at my friend’s place there was a lasagne, vegan, out on the bench, and a pile of white china plates ready to serve. A salad dressing whipped up and rocket and pumpkin tonged out, water served chilled from a bottle in the fridge. The baby kicking and grinning in her high chair at the table; one of the girls. Blue eyes.
One engagement ring sits on the hand of another blonde friend; an occupational therapist, jogger, puppy-owner and prolific reader who in six weeks’ time will be in a white dress. Everything’s ready, of course; and they got a good deal on their reception package. Sitting on the floor of the playroom, she explains to us that they’ll look for a new house before they start trying for a baby.
She used to eat three sausage rolls a day from the school canteen.
They’re little adults, I realised as I looked around the playroom. Of course they are; we’re 26. But where I feel like a 17-year-old — deep in a second adolescence, all selfishness and drama and rubber-band focus, serving meals on plastic plates and ignoring daily the dent in my car’s bumper — these young women I grew up with are managing careers and households and buying art and investing in shares and maintaining exercise routines and listening to folk and jazz and having hard conversations with partners and saving money and wearing high fashion and researching the price of lino and reading novels for pleasure and eating salad and making dressing and buying cashews and buying cashews to make nut milk and going to the GP for a specialist referral and watering indoor plants and not letting them die and upgrading to newer cars and filling out visa paperwork and raising dogs and cats and a baby, a beautiful intelligent inquisitive baby.
My friends are grown-ups; my friends are making decisions and being responsible and choosing paths and propelling themselves down them.
And, for the first time, I feel… left behind.
Over the past twelve months I’ve leaned into feeling comfortable with not knowing what comes next; with the idea that I’ll connect the dots at the end of it all instead of following a pre-plotted course.
But hearing big plans and ideas, and seeing before me the real, tangible evidence of lives moving forward made me question: what’s my direction? What’s my purpose? What’s propelling me forward and what’s it all for?
I have faith that however things turn out they’ll turn out well, and I know I don’t need to leap to a friend’s branch just because she’s growing out in a different direction from me. But it is a neat reminder to look up, to track deliberately, and to tend towards the sun.