Growing up and ‘getting out’ of the Midwest

Sandwiched. That’s what we are: The point where the Ivy League’s red bricks and the Golden Gate sunshine meet in the middle, with a side of Canadian maple trees and winters that often forget their expiration dates. Growing up in the landlocked states of the Midwest, we have the pleasure of experiencing both frigid winters and baking hot summers. Few of us have ever hailed a taxi in our lives, and the only airplanes we take are those to visit grandparents in Florida.

High school is a time of great anticipation, where we start to see dreams forming and talk about big, big things, like the upcoming senior prom and the latest iPhone model. But most importantly, we always talk about “getting out.” The thing is, these dandelion-filled cement sidewalks are getting a little old under our feet. The box-like glass windows always reflect the same cars. Our football team hasn’t won a single game since probably before our parents were born. We’re always half a year late with all the coolest trends, making us, unfortunately, half a year uncool. “Swag” didn’t hit us until after the rage had passed, and “YOLO” was just a terribly inaccurate pronunciation of “yellow.” The bubble of these small Midwestern towns is fit to burst.

Staying in the same place all of our lives gives us a dream-like expectation of “everywhere else.” This “other” setting appeals to us so much because of how little we actually know about it. Our sense of adventure and newfound dreams are growing too big to fit in the pockets of our small towns. We are spilling over the edges, leaking, leaping, and bounding from East Coast to West.

“Getting out” is just what we think we need: to be able to explore the coastal cities and do worldly things, although most of these ideals of city life may have come from watching too many seasons of Gossip Girl. What it means exactly, we aren’t sure. But the young Midwestern mind is tired of the same scenery and wants a change of location.

College, to many of us, is a bright light at the end of a tunnel, a place where we will finally be able to be free. To burst out of our small protective bubbles and confidently take on the world, savoring the brilliant taste of new freedom. To be able to traipse through cities and hang out with new friends all night long, what we imagine “getting out” feels like. The thought of it makes us want to leave our teenage days behind us even faster, and adulthood can’t sound any sweeter.

In our current state of set curfews and school nights inside, we anticipate new, unexpected, and exciting choices. We plan to go to midnight movie premieres no matter the day of the week and to stay up late without worrying about catching the 6:30 a.m. school bus the next day. These small bits of our desired freedom are all we imagine as college prospects inch closer day by day. For some of us, it will be the time to buy that skirt that our mothers told us was “too short,” or maybe to buy the junk food we always craved in our hungriest moments. These easily satisfied, short-term goals that are regarded so little by seasoned adults are the small, daily gems we plan to pocket and enjoy as soon as we’re given the chance.

However, our dreams of freedom and leaving home become so much more real as the school year edges into the beginning of second semester. As mature and independent as we think we are, the frightening truth is that time is quickly speeding toward the end of our high school days. The thought of doing our own laundry and making our own food is enough to send us crawling back to elementary school times, yet here we are, slowly but surely, growing up and getting out. However uncool our little towns may be, we all secretly enjoy our time in the safety and familiarity of it all. Just barely dipping our toes into the oceans of adulthood is both exciting and full of apprehension. We are the beginners peeping down the highest diving board, looking over the edge, and wondering if it will hurt once we hit the water. We are the young children taking those training wheels off for the first time ever. We are the new students on the first day of school in a new, unfamiliar place. We are the next generation of explorers, adventurers, and daredevils.

We are also in our last stages of childhood, something that can never be returned to us. So, it’s okay for us to enjoy the view from the top of the springboard, or the safety of those extra wheels, or the help of teachers and peers to guide us through new hallways. We learn to treasure the quickly shrinking moments of childhood just as much as we treasure our excitement for the unknown future. As teenagers, growing up is an important step on the road, but stepping back and enjoying what we have now is something we should grasp while we still have the chance.

Alice Deng is currently living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can usually be found on a couch or in a local coffee shop. She enjoys drawing on the margins of notebook paper, eating fruit snacks, and looking at pretty flowers. Follow her on Instagram.

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