“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Wow! You are so mature for your age!”

I have heard this comment for as long as I can remember, along with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a first-generation Nigerian American, I wanted to give an acceptable answer:

A doctor?

A lawyer?

An engineer?

“I will be an engineer!” I dutifully answered.

Because how do I explain to them my desire, my need, to just be a child?

I never got to be the kid who played without worry. Trauma has a way of leaving a lasting mark. It looks like always being the responsible one, never sitting with my back facing the door, and being hyper-aware of my surroundings and the tones of the voices around me.

Now, I want to create emotionally and physically safe spaces for those who don’t have them. I hope to forever nurture my inner child and let her know that it is safe to come out and play—take the trip, join the team, pursue the nontraditional career. And I will remind people to check on their strong, mature, and responsible friend who had to grow up too fast.

— Deborah Owolabi