Eleanor Ainge Roy has some advice for her youngest brother
as she approaches the age of 25.
My youngest brother is a year off finishing high school, and
already buckling under a deluge of questions: what will you
do, where will you go, and how will you pay for it?
Blessed with youthful insouciance, he shrugs off these
queries, and ignores all interested parties. The reality of
actually considering what comes next is no doubt
overwhelming, uncomfortable and at present best avoided.
It is only seven years ago that those same questions were
directed at me. And without that devil-don't-care attitude,
how I fretted. I left school a year early (I was skipped up),
just as my brother will, at 17.
It is only once childhood is beyond our grasp that nostalgia
kicks in, and we realise how precious those brief years of
security and familial comfort were.
I felt grown-up when I left; ready, but now I wonder what the
rush was. How life seems easier, less burdensome somehow,
when there are five people to share the load.
I had one advantage - I knew what I wanted to do. I was
impatient to be a journalist, to speed through university and
apply for a job. Tangled up with this was a messy, heated
yearning for adventure. After six stifling years of high
school, I longed for the antithesis of order, punctuality and
routine. My idea of freedom was rooted in Somerset Maugham's
short stories: the Far East.
I told Dad and younger brother my plan, one semester of
university in Wellington, and then six months of travel. They
sulked, they pouted, and quickly eroded any confidence I had
in my decision.
''You should stay here,'' said Dad.
''Yeah,'' seconded my brother, just a year younger than me.
''Stay in Wanaka."
''And what would I do in Wanaka?'' A long silence.
''Work in the vineyards?''
At the time, my family's lack of support seemed bizarre. They
didn't like any plan I had, but could never suggest an
alternative. Seven years later, I see the same thing
happening to my brother.
''I'm going to drive trucks on farms in America,'' he'll say.
''I'm going to go to university."
''I'm going to be an actor in New York."
No. Don't make me laugh.
My family weren't helpful because they didn't want me to go.
They were protective. And yet how prohibitive protection can
be. Since my youngest brother was 6 years old, I have never
wanted him to grow up. His blond hair, green eyes and sweet
nature are best suited to boyhood. Yet grown he has, and
despite my reluctance for him to change, my desire to cocoon
him in the innocence of childhood, he has improved with age.
At every test, he has shown himself well equipped for
adulthood, yet still I want to hold him back.
To make him understand that every choice he makes now will be
his own, and every mistake or mis-step will bear his name.
It seems to be widely believed that the years succeeding high
school define your future. That they are pivotal, important
But I have come to disagree. Their evanescent nature makes
them perfectly suited to experimentation: to stuffing things
up and starting all over.
I'm pushing 25 now, and although I love my work, the time for
empty summers and no responsibility is over. I didn't value
it when I was 17; I felt it was ''wasted time''.
My eagerness to create a life, get a job and earn some money
was grounded in a fear of falling behind. I lived - and still
do live - by a noisy clock that is always telling me to hurry
I don't want this for my brother. If he asks me, I will tell
him to do whatever the heck he pleases. If he chooses to
drive trucks in America, I can help him sort out a Green
Card. If he decides to be the next De Niro, we'll watch
Taxi Driver and Raging Bull together.
He has a lifetime ahead of him to make sensible choices, but
very few years to live by his dreams and his whims and his
• Eleanor Ainge Roy is a Dunedin journalist.