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This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!

When I first saw the topic for Parent Co.’s December writing contest, I quite literally threw my hands in the air, scoffed aloud, and closed my laptop. Of course, I promptly reopened it to do what I always do in times of trouble; I Googled it. “Growth: development, maturation, growing, germination, sprouting; blooming…” The words glared off the bright screen into my tired eyes and made the dark surrounding of my rarely quiet living room seem just a shade or two darker. I closed my laptop again. What did I know of growth? As I fought the sleep that I so desperately look forward to each evening, my thoughts drifted back to my first conscious memory of growing.

When I was seven years old, I suddenly began waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in both of my legs. My tiny unshaven legs throbbed from calf to thigh with a type of pain that I had never experienced. Night after night, I would wake up sobbing and my mother would come into my room to comfort me and wrap my legs with steaming hot towels. After what a felt like a few weeks (but more likely was just a few very long nights) of waking to this excruciating leg pain, my mom took me to the pediatrician to confirm that which she had suspected all along. I was having growing pains. Eat more dairy and take a daily vitamin. Needless to say, my desperate pleas for a second opinion went unrequited.

Growing pains? I certainly thought not. How could it be? I had been growing my entire life and it had never hurt before. I didn’t buy it. It was too obvious; too cliché. Surely, I was very ill and not a soul in this world cared enough to take a closer look at what was truly ailing me before it would inevitably be too late. But, miraculously, over the next few weeks, the aching in my legs dulled and the memory of what it felt like to grow faded until it was an indiscernible and unremarkable moment in time.

While admittedly naive and embarrassingly precocious, my own seven-year-old logic remains sound 25 years later. I had been growing for seven years, yet I had never experienced the slightest awareness of it. Not one muscle twinge or tummy ache had ever been attributed to growth. So why, when my legs had stretched far longer and grown far thinner in past years, was I so suddenly and abruptly made painfully aware of my body’s struggle against its own to desire to change? It was a good question for a seven-year-old girl; it remains a good question for a 33-year-old woman.

As I sat in the darkness, still temporarily blinded from growth’s blaring definition into my optic nerve and its recently revived memory fading once again back into the surrounding darkness, I still did not know why sometimes it hurts to grow while other times it does not.

As 2017 comes to a close and I look back at this year, I see that precocious seven-year-old girl on the ground with two scraped knees. She has fallen down. The few short moments that she’s been on the ground feel like a lifetime. Her shock and pain have quickly shifted to embarrassment and self-loathing. She mistakes the help that she is being offered for mockery and condescendence. Surrounded by people who love her, she feels alone. But she is just shaken up; she took a very rough fall and briefly lost sight of the fact that she is just fine. It’s not too late in the day for her to get back up, with the help of others, forgive her clumsy self and anyone who might have accidentally gotten in her way. As I sat in the darkness, I could see her stubbornly refusing to get back up again.

I spent 2017 angry on the ground, wondering whether I tripped or if someone pushed me and how the hell I was going to take them down in return. But I didn’t take anyone down; I just kept myself there for almost an entire year. Time and time again, I pushed away familiar hands that reached out to help me. Hands that had fed, bathed, and clothed me. Hands that had wrapped my throbbing tiny unshaven legs in steaming hot towels night after night and that had never asked a single thing in return from me. I refused their help because my pain had somehow convinced me that someone or something had to be to blame for it. I was still subscribing to that same futile concept that pain can be explained; that growth can be understood.

The scuffs and scrapes that I accumulated in 2017 will undoubtedly leave me with scars. And while I may be sore for a while, I am finally ready to admit that no one is responsible for the pain that I have and will experience in this lifetime; I very well may never understand why sometimes, some years, it hurts to grow, while others it does not. The pain that I confronted this year will not be resolved with a daily vitamin or increased calcium intake. I can’t Google it and instantly understand it. But I am weary of waiting for understanding. It’s not too late in the day to reach out to the tired hands that always linger nearby in times of trouble. It’s not too late to let them pull me back up, dust me off, and tightly wrap me in their tired love. It’s never too late in the year to get back up after falling from grace. And even if you don’t understand it, it’s never too late to grow from pain.

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