Stories from the road: I’m (getting) old

Alternate title: Time, Part II

The last time I was with my cousins was a few years back. It was a simpler time then, when we’d stay up later than everyone else, because we were the oldest, and because we could. A few times before that, I’d sleep over at my cousin’s house, where we’d play Commander Keen or Rollercoaster Tycoon until the early hours of the morning. And as soon as we woke up, it was straight back to trading Pokémon in Gold and Silver. Did I mention it might have been a little while ago? Yeah, it was a little while ago.

This time around, there’s been a lot less tomfoolery and a lot more rest and relaxation. We’re all quite a bit older now, and that has meant cousins are working during the day, or studying all the way up until the Chinese New Year holiday. One cousin is a practicing dentist, another is studying to be a doctor, and another is doing law at Uni. Of all the cousins around my age, all of them are doing Uni or already out in the workforce, either in Australia or abroad.

There’s nothing quite like a family reunion to remind you of how old you actually are.

When my cousins and I were younger — in our late teens, or thereabouts — we took a lot of things for granted, as you tend to do when you’re that age. We lived vicariously, in the here and the now, as the future was always a few more years away. It meant we could do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to do it. Being in our late teens was pretty great, actually — as we were the eldest cousins, we were given a little freedom (unlike our early/pre-teen siblings), whilst still having very little responsibility, especially around Chinese New Year when all the adults, i.e. our parents, would do all the work. All we needed to do was watch cartoons, sleep in until midday, have random naps throughout the day, that kind of thing. Yeah, that was the good life.

But I was watching an episode of Phineas and Ferb on the Disney Channel when I realised that those glory days were more or less over. Now that we’re older, all of us have suddenly grown up as we’ve all started to think abut our own lives and the future we want, whether that involves education and a career, or perhaps even marriage and kids. Now, it’s our younger siblings’ turn to revel in their youth, despite the fact that many of them are on the verge of becoming adults themselves.

It’s the classic coming of age story. Boy enjoys his youth. Boy realises, somewhat too late, that his youth has now passed. Boy becomes an adult, whether he likes it or not.

It’s not just with my cousins, either, who I only see every few years; I’ve seen the same transition into adulthood happen with my friends, too.

For the past few years, a few friends from high school and I have taken a week long trip to the northern end of Tasmania. Every year, before Uni started up, we would head to a mutual acquaintance’s house to have what can only be described as a week-long LAN party. We’d load a few cars up with computers and whatever other essentials we needed for a week of gaming, and drive ourselves up over the course of a morning. We’ve done it a number of times now, ever since a few of us were able to drive, and every time we’ve had an absolute blast playing whatever tickles our fancy. Perhaps a bit of Age of Empires, a little Dota, and generous amounts of Minecraft, Counter Strike, and whatever else was "in" at the time.

Seeing as all of us live still live with our parents, that trip up north was kinda like our own little escape from our families and parents, even if it was just for a week. A home away from home, if you will. We’d do all our own cooking and cleaning, and we’d play computer games until the early hours of the morning. Mostly the latter.

The last time we were up there in early 2013, the guy I was camping with said he suspected that that would be the last time any of us would be able to make the trip up. As it turns out, he was right. Now that my friends and I have all graduated from Uni and are venturing out into the big bad world, there’s simply no time between polishing resumes, job applications, and new positions to even think about taking a week off to unwind with video games for a week with a few mates, as much as we’d all like to.

Not that it’s all bad, mind you. We still game a lot together, but the vast majority of our gaming time is spent online, instead of shouting at each other in the same room. We still have the occasional LAN party too, just for nowhere near as long. (We realised a number of years ago we were getting too old to go all day and all night, so these days we usually call it quits around 2-3am.)

I guess that’s just what happens when you get old (the added responsibility and thinking-about-the-future stuff, not the ending-LAN-parties-early stuff). Whether you want to or not, you start to take responsibility for all the adult-type stuff your youth prepared you for — or didn’t, as the case may be.

In a number of ways, the repetition of the entire process is somewhat soothing. People grow up. They get married. They start families of their own, and then their children start the process all over again. Some "life" happens in between, of course, but it’s fascinating to think that’s how it’s been for thousands of years. Technology may have changed our way of life, but at its core, it’s all more or less the same for our parents as it was for us, as it will be for our children.

Although, I know a few parents — mine included — who would beg to differ, saying they had it much harder in their day. What they don’t realise, though, is that our generation, with it’s reliance on technology, has struggles of its own. They never had to deal with slow ADSL connections, or Twitter being down, or the shutdown of Google Reader. They didn’t know what it was like to be excluded from a Snapchat group, or fend off thousands of creepy guys from Instagram. On the plus side, they didn’t have the same reach that we do now. The internet has made communicating with other humans easier than ever before, and with publishing platforms like Medium, people with a story to tell can be heard by anyone with and internet connection. But I, once again, digress.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve now reached that stage where I have to make some big decisions of my own. What kind of job do I want? Where do I want to be in 5, 10 years from now? As much as I might want to relive my high school glory days, or whittle away the days and weeks playing Dota, there’s plenty to look forward to in the future. My cousins and I may be busy little bees in our own everyday lives, but it’s comforting to know that perhaps, one day, we’ll be able to get together with families of our very own, just like our families do now.

Because that’s just how it works, you know? Circle of life and all that. This year’s birthday is just another notch in the belt buckle of life, as it were.

Disclaimer: this entry was posted from the road during Malaysia 2014. Whilst all care has been taken to ensure this post is free from typos and other minor errors, the author cannot be held responsible for any factual errors within, but can offer his sincerest apologies should any inaccuracies be found. The lack of images and links is somewhat intentional, owning to the fact this was posted from an iPhone or iPad. There will probably be a post with a bunch of pictures once I get back to my wonderful, glorious, low-latency, works-every-time NBN connection at home.

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