One of the hardest things for me about being a parent is dealing with the idea that there are just certain things I can’t (and even shouldn’t) do for my kids. I didn’t realize just how strong the urge would be to jump in the middle of something they were doing and “help.”
I want to help them cheat at life.
Even by my standards this is a horrible idea. I still wonder, though, if I could give my kids the real benefit of my experiences, what would I give them?
When you’re a kid, life is really just a series of screw-ups waiting to happen. Sometimes I forget this, which leads me to ask the largely rhetorical question: “What were you thinking?”
I have failed atrociously over the course of my life; fortunately, the biggest Fails have happened well before the era of Social Media so they exist undocumented, save in the mythology of my old friends.
Note to old friends who may be reading this: I will be moderating the heck out of these comments. “Undocumented” is the key word here.
I wish I could rip some of these mistakes right out of my head, blow on them a bit to dust them off, and then shove them Nintendo-style into right into their little brains.
No, don’t ask that person out! Look what will happen! [thunk]
Beer OR Jagermeister, not Beer AND Jagermeister! Look what will happen! [thunk]
Watch out for that tree! [thunk]
How is a kid supposed to know when they’re good at something or not, when they haven’t sucked at enough things to be able to know what being good at something feels like?
On the other hand, I have sucked at a looooot of things. Here’s a short selection:
- I had an ill-considered foray into stand-up comedy my senior year of high school that resulted in the football team chasing me off the stage
- I got fired from my job in gas station when I was 17. Fired. From a gas station.
- All of 1997.
I wish I could give my kids the feeling that no matter what, everything will probably be all right in the end, even if it takes a while to get there.
Sometimes things aren’t all right in the end, though. Like a tree that’s been pruned by a 1976 Volvo, sometimes life comes along and takes a big chunk out of you and It. Never. Grows. Back.
Death of a loved one. Stricken by disease or injury. The world is full of stories of people who inspire us by not just surviving but thriving in the face of something life-altering. Even if you’re in really bad shape, you can get better.
I used to believe that if I ever ran away to a Tibetan monastery and devoted my entire life to mastering the martial arts and learning Ancient Secrets that I could one day become Batman. The fact that I wasn’t yet Batman was a matter of personal choice–I just didn’t exercise the option.
One day I groggily sat up, scratches myself inappropriately, coughed, and threw my back out. At that precise moment I realized that, like a cosmic odometer rolling over an infinitesimal probability, my chances of becoming Batman went from practically zero to exactly zero.
I am still coming to terms with the door closing on my once-promising career in the Justice League. I haven’t given up on the gadgets or the batmobile yet. On the plus side, I have realized there are an entire set of things that are not me, and I am totally fine with this.
One of the things I never realized was just how good I had it, whenever it was being had. Consider:
When you’re a baby people feed you, ooh and ah over you, you can sleep as much as you want, and toes are a delicious and entertaining treat. It probably doesn’t get any better than this, but you’re a stupid baby and in a rush to be a “big kid” so you can do it all by yourself. STUPID BABY! GO BACK TO BEING A BABY!
When you’re a big kid your job is to play and learn. Sometimes things are hard–like the pavement, which you are always running into. If you make a mess of things, though, no one will really remember except your sister, because remembering all of your mistakes is what sisters are for. You still get fed with alarming regularity and you never want to sleep. Toes are not as delicious as pizza. You can’t reach the high stuff in the cabinets without climbing on the counter. If only you were a little bigger, a little taller, a little faster.
When you’re a teenager you don’t “play” any more (unless it’s video games or sports), but you do a lot of “hanging out”, which looks a lot like playing but is less lame. Your parents claim they feed you, but you suspect they are lying liars because you are always hungry. You can finally reach the top shelf without having to climb on the counter, yay! You can also be tried as an adult just for having a girlfriend with high-strung parents, boo. Mostly, you just can’t wait to go to college.
In college you do less drudgery than you ever did your entire academic career and you’re entirely unsupervised. You are legally an adult but still mentally a child, with all of the rights and privileges that go along with making horrible life choices that entails. You are also broke and can’t wait until you get out of school and get a Real Job.
You finally land your first Real Job, only to discover that now you have Real Bills. You wake up dreaming of sucking on toes and book an appointment with your therapist because that can’t be normal…
Up Up Down Down…
I was swapping kid stories with a friend the other day and she was sharing an elaborate hoax she pulled off on their kids to get them to think they had school on a holiday, complete with a fake twitter account and everything, which was absolutely brilliant. This, I think, is the perfect metaphor for why experience has to be earned and not given:
Without the head start of old age, how the heck am I supposed to mercilessly troll my children?