The Girl on the Picnic Table

We are at my niece’s birthday party and a girl says: “Look! We have the same shoes!”. I look around and realise I dress more like the P4 girls than the other mums.


Remember how we sat on the picnic table in the back garden, flicking through the Argos catalogue, picking our engagement rings? Remember how our futures tripped off our tongues like facts: “I’m going to get married at 23”, “I’m going to live by the sea”, “I’m going to be a journalist”, “I’m going to have 3 kids”.

Remember how we picked our children’s names? And changed our minds, and picked again?

Remember how we were going to be grown-up? By 23?

Remember, then, how we weren’t going to have children? How we were going to Change the World? Remember how we weren’t going to get married? Unless it was to the boy who wore peach jeans, the baker from Eastern Europe, where we would run an orphanage all our days.  Starting just after we turned 23.

Remember how we were sure our hair would be straighter and our minds would be surer and our hearts would feel braver?  We would run homes (or orphanages) and drive cars (or mini vans) and never struggle with any of it.


I sit down one day to try to write for a hip online collective for 20-somethings. I thought I could because I still feel 23, in the 20s.

I sit down, and remember, I am so firmly in what Madeleine L’Engle called the tired thirties.

Maybe I have some wisdom to impart?

But the “How-to”s and the “5 Reasons” and the smart questions ellude my cluttered mind.

I sit down in my even more cluttered kitchen and think how far I feel already from my 20s, but how much further still I feel from the ‘grown-up’ I thought I would be.

The girl on the picnic table would be disappointed.


I flick through a decade-old journal in which I have written (or rather, scrawled, in glittery green pen) a quote from Kent Ira Groff that includes these words: “Like someone climbing a spiral staircase, we may come around to the same issues again and again, but always at a new level.” I flick through the decade-old journal and the rest of it turns out to be a perfect illustration of the quote. The girl in the journal is so very recognisable. She is thankful and curious. She is anxious and muddled.


Being a nervous driver is one of the many things that makes me feel like I’m not really a grown-up. I worry, sometimes, that when she’s older my daughter will think I’m a loser, what with my steely grip of the steering wheel and my parking issues, with the inevitability that I will need Sat Nav to drop her to friends’ houses.

But my driving issues (like all my issues that have followed me through my 20s and are creeping along faithfully beside me in my 30s) remind me that we are all struggling with something.

Why do I think confident driving is the thing I have to model for my daughter? She doesn’t need me to be smooth or flawless or fast.

She needs me on that spiral staircase, sharing what I learn at each new level. She needs me funny and vulnerable and showing up. She needs to know I do things that are hard for me.


The girl on the picnic table would be disappointed, but the woman in her 30s has learnt grace.

4 thoughts on “The Girl on the Picnic Table

  1. I think the girl at the picnic table would realise that the reality of who she has become and is becoming is much richer than her imagination would allow back then. I was just thinking recently how surprised I am that being a mother has not made me feel any more grown up either!

  2. Oh wow – so much YES to all of this! I feel so far from ‘young’ but probably even farther from ‘grown up’ or ‘adult’ (when / how does that happen? Does it ever??). I love the idea that we may continue to have similar struggles, but at new levels. Thats actually quite comforting and reassuring, in a strange way. And if I’ve learnt one thing over these years, GRACE is surely it. To yourself and to others.

    • Thank you Jude. I am starting to suspect now it never happens! It can be so hard not to feel disappointed in ourselves sometimes. Let’s keep cheering each other on in all our wonderful imperfection 🙂

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