Never grow up: The bittersweetness of getting older

A blonde and bright-eyed Isabella posing for Grandma Kay — some things never change. Photo courtesy of Kay Ernsberger. 


As I approach the end of my sophomore year, embark on the beginning of my 20s and reflect on all that has gotten me to where I am and all that awaits me, the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Never Grow Up” find their way into my mind. From what I can tell, and if TikTok hasn’t misled me, this seems to be a common experience for most people my age. Growing up seems to creep up on us out of nowhere, leaving us to question where all the time went and what lies ahead. 

I grew up as the middle child and eldest daughter. My brother is older than me by five years, and my sister is seven years my junior. So not only am I in the middle by birth order, but I am right in the middle age-wise, as well. 

My age rank in the family has made my experience as a sibling super unique. More so now than ever, I am old enough to relate to my brother in ways I couldn’t when I was younger, and we’re  at the point now where I’ve even been deemed cool enough to hang out with him and his friends. 

On the flip side, I am also young enough to relate to my sister in ways that nobody else in the family can and to help her navigate the tricky experience of growing up into a young woman — which, nowadays, presents more challenges than ease. 

Being away from my siblings, specifically, has been a conflicting experience. As much as I miss them when I’m gone, we have also grown closer since I’ve been away at college. I can tell the difference when I’m back home and through the phone calls and text conversations we have when I’m not. I think my absence makes us cherish each other a bit more, which, in turn, makes it more difficult to be away from them. 

Cotter Welch, a sophomore biomedical engineering and biology major, said that being away from home has brought her and her siblings closer. She has also noticed how each of her siblings expresses that they’ve missed her when she sees them.

“My oldest brother, he just straight up would be like, ‘I missed you so much, I’m so glad you’re home,” Welch said. “My sister would just want to go to the store with me and go shopping. And then my youngest brother actually had scheduled games for us to play … because he’s too cool to say that he loves me and misses me, so he would schedule things for us to do together. We never really did that when I was just home.”

My brother and sister are always on my mind in some way, especially as they go through the ebbs and flows of their own lives. The distance has made it harder to show up for them in the ways I wish I could. It’s difficult to know that I’m missing parts of their lives when I just want to be there for it all.

Now that I spend most of my days in Indianapolis instead of South Bend — my hometown — I miss a lot of what happens back home. I’ve had to adjust to seeing their days in pictures instead of spending their days with them, FaceTime calls instead of debriefs on the kitchen floor. One hundred and fifty miles prohibit me from showing up in ways that I used to, a hard truth that brings about a sense of guilt for not being around as much anymore. 

Now, to be clear, this guilt is completely self-imposed in the way that nobody back home makes me feel guilty about not being home anymore — this is all me. They know that I’m away because I need to be, and they see the things I am doing and applaud and support me from afar. 

This guilt I feel is rooted in the bittersweetness of growing up, remembering how it once was, and realizing that’s not how it is anymore. This brings about the question: what does my role of being a sister, daughter and granddaughter look like now? 

It’s human nature to always worry about those you love. It’s almost instinctual. This goes hand-in-hand with missing the people you love, as well. Being away has made me appreciate the time I do have with them even more, as I’m more intentional with spending time with them than before.

Alex Rosenblatt, a sophomore physics and motorsport engineering major, acknowledges that he misses his family but chooses to enjoy the time apart, as he sees it as a way of strengthening those relationships. 

“I think it’s good to have time apart so that when you’re together, you will appreciate the time more,” Rosenblatt said. “With all things, you know, my dad always says, ‘Everything in moderation.’”

We’ve heard it all before — “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Sure it does, but it doesn’t always feel too fond when you’re so many miles away from all you once knew. It’s a challenging thing to remember where you’ve been while trying not to lose sight of where you’re going. I’ve created my own life here in Indy. Even so, I know I can go back and visit my “old” one whenever I want.

Rosenblatt said that when he went home for the first time after being away, he could sense a change in how he spent his time with his family and now makes an extra effort to make up for the time he’s been away.

“When you’ve known someone your whole life, it’s kind of hard to forget what that relationship was like, especially if you’ve only been away for a few months,” Rosenblatt said. “But I do realize that my dad — he obviously misses me — but my mom … she really misses her boys when they’re gone. And so I try and be a little more conscientious when I am back home to spend some extra time with her.”

Time is a frustrating thing because there’s never enough of it. What makes growing up so difficult is realizing how much time passes and how quickly it does, while also knowing that you can’t rewind. Additionally, the knowledge that you’re leaving comfort for the unknown is very scary to navigate

Welch said that when she first left home, she felt worried and anxious about the unknown, but now she’s adopted a perspective that helps her through those anxieties.

“I just have slowly figured out that everything works out the way that it’s supposed to,” Welch said. “You just have to trust the process and [trust] that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to end up. [I’m] learning to enjoy the little things in life because you can’t live in the past.”

Reminding myself to trust the process is something that’s really helped me navigate through the waves of sadness and excitement that have come about over the past two years. Having this mindset has made it easier to go through the motions of growing up and facing the unknown.

As scary as getting older is, it’s equally exciting. I turned 20 in December and realizing that I’ll never be a teenager again really threw me off for a bit, but knowing that I was embarking into my twenties made me — and makes me — super optimistic and curious about what this decade will bring. 

Christina St. Germain, a junior international business and finance major, said that as much as she is excited about the future, she is also scared about it too. She came to Butler all the way from east central Florida, so she reminds herself of her motivation to leave home to keep herself excited about what’s to come.

“I always try and like remind myself, like, there are reasons why I left — this is what I wanted,” St. Germain said. “Being here gives me more opportunities. That’s what’s really helped me out is I feel like, here at Butler, I have so many more opportunities than I would have if I stayed home.”

The opportunities that I have already received in my short time at Butler make me even more excited about the opportunities that are coming my way. Without leaving home, I wouldn’t have these chances to take advantage of and grow in the ways I have.

I have been so blessed to have a really supportive family. My dad is my biggest cheerleader, my mom is the blueprint for what I want to become, my brother is the coolest person I know, and my sister is my purpose. My grandparents have shown up in ways that were never required of them, but they did it, happily. 

Maybe I don’t have an answer to what my role as a daughter, sister and granddaughter looks like now. But, what I do know is that regardless of what it looks like or how it feels, my family will always be there for me, and I will always be there for them, whether that be 150 miles away, across the world or right back home — and no matter how grown up I become, to them I will always be their blonde, bright-eyed Belli.


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