This article begins a new series about growing up.  Not growing up in the traditional sense, where you can mark your progress on the door frame or you start shaving or you get your drivers license, but growing up on the inside.

Leg aches were a tangible sign of physical growth.  I had severe leg aches at night as a child of 10 or 12.  During the day I was always in motion.  My legs felt fine.  But at night, lying still, the aching became excruciating.  My mother explained that my bones were growing.  I didn’t understand, but her massage and explanation helped in the moment.

The signs of emotional growth and maturity are often not as tangible, and even when they are quite tangible, they are not as easily attached to the growth they indicate, the way aches can be quickly identified with legs.


Entomology provides an interesting metaphor for what I believe takes place in times of internal growth and change.  It’s the process of insects shedding their outer skins.  This process is most obvious in parts of the country when, at a certain time of the year, you find the empty skins of cicadas attached to every outdoor surface.

Insects do not have internal skeletons.  Instead, they have a hard outer skin, an exoskeleton.  This exoskeleton provides them protection from the elements and from predators.  The exoskeleton is crucial for their survival.  However, because this exoskeleton is rigid, it does not grow with the rest of their body.  When the insect emerges from it’s winter rest, the body has grown too large for the exoskeleton to be of use.  So the insect’s body secretes a fluid that softens the exoskeleton, causing it to split from the pressure of the insect’s body.  Then the insect wiggles its way out of the old exoskeleton, which is no longer of any use.

However, once the insect has shed its old skin, it takes a while for the new shell underneath to harden and provide the necessary protection.  It is during this time, between the shedding of the old and the full development of the new, that the insect is most vulnerable.

Life just keeps coming, and growth often takes the form of having something stripped away from us, like the insect’s exoskeleton.  Teenage angst is often due to the stripping away of childhood fantasies without the maturity (yet) of understanding what’s been lost.   Young adulthood often includes shedding the some of the carefreeness of late adolescence or college.  Older adults grapple with the loss of ideals of what they were to accomplish during their careers.  The joys of parenthood are coupled with the humbling realization that we don’t have nearly as much power as we hoped, and things rarely turn out the way we planned.

We don’t have a winter to hibernate and grow and then emerge with a new perspective.  Change just keeps happening.  Change is inevitable.  Maturity is optional.  Maturity requires that we learn the available lessons from the change.  Failure to do so requires that we drag around an outdated exoskeleton, assuming it will continue to serve us, unaware that we are vulnerable to predators.

What would you like to see in coming articles?  Some of my thoughts are to address changes that I believe almost everyone encounters.  These include:  coming to terms with our past, revising our childhood assumptions, recognizing our limitations, embracing our strengths, being humbled by parenthood, you know, those kinds of easy things.

Let me know what you’d like to see?