It’s a new experience for me to hang out with children. Sure, there are plenty of children I pass by every day, but I never realized just how removed I have been from family life, and interaction with kids. They can be cute, energetic, and full of curiosity, but what do I do with them? Not having any children of my own and having been away from kids so long that I don’t know what to do when I’m around one or even know how to relate.

This weekend, I spent photographing a birthday party. The girl had just turned 13, and her mother threw her a weekend getaway with fourteen of her friends, at a country estate, complete with inflatable games, a tent picnic lunch, and magic show before a costume dress-up dinner.

But my mind could not stop asking: just what are these thirteen year old girls like? Their faces no longer so round and babyish, with their bodies growing lanky with first signs of maturation – I could see in their eyes, and limbs how they would eventually grow up into women. Dressing in the latest fashions and labels, talking and giggling, and playing. Hugging, tickling, and holding one another in innocent fashion, loving things like trampolining for hours, and yet, exhibiting bold inquisitiveness with their direct questions. I am baffled. I have arrived on another planet. I am surrounded by girliness and even though I was once a girl, I cannot relate to these budding teenagers at all (but then again I was a tomboy and a loner). I feel incredibly daft, and tongue-tied, as I try to strike up a conversation with this group.

I felt pretty confused around these foreigners. The girls, not quite children, and not quite teenagers, exhibited signs of self-consciousness at times, and the utter childlike absorption. They played and sometimes would pose for me, throwing attitude, but then be completely meek and obedient at the slightest word from an adult. I have related to adults so long that I no longer can deal with interpersonal situations in any other sense. It makes me wonder where I have been.

Starting from a very early age, I knew I didn’t want to be a mother. I was very aware of my non-maternal instinct to breed. Feeling protective and being nurturing came very easily to me, but as I crept into my twenties, and now my thirties, I remained ever vigilant of any biological ticking of the clock, trying to listen for any signs. Not one tick. Not ever. I felt no competitiveness when my close friends started getting pregnant, and politely went to baby showers with the appropriate gifts. I treated other people’s children on a case by case basis, and did not succumb to sentimentality. I’m a woman with a womb, but zero desire to utilize the uterus. In fact, I view pregnancy with fear: the fear of blowing me off my career, and the fear of ruining a maintained body. And yet, I now work with expectant mums all the time as a massage practitioner, and have had a slew of photo gigs photographing children’s parties. I feel a certain numb affinity (“Oh yea, I used to be 13, or 5, or 7, or 9, so long ago”), but then the distinct feeling of being on the periphery.

How did this happen? The crazy thing is, I still perceive that I am immature and cling onto old memories. In truth, I’ve grown up. Moved on. Separated. Disconnected. I know as little about hanging out with children as I would a lemur. Thankfully I have my camera to hide behind.

Erica, 34, London UK

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