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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Consequences, Schmonsequences

18 comments | July 16th, 2012

(by Mir from wouldashoulda.com)

There comes a time in every parents' lifetime when they realize exactly how dumb they were when they were younger. This usually occurs due to the advent of teenagers in the house. I mean, small children are often not bright, but you don't really expect a toddler to perform feats of complex reasoning. By the time your kid reaches double digits, though, they're doing impressive stuff. Inference. Algebra. Empathy for non-immediate life circumstances. All the sorts of things that lead you to believe that one day they will be productive members of society.

But then—just when you've started to relax—it happens. It becomes clear that your brilliant special snowflake is, in fact, still dumb as a stump. And this is obvious because you start having flashbacks to all of the ill-conceived things you, yourself, did as a fledgling adult. (Honestly, sometimes it's amazing to consider that any of us made it to adulthood at all.)

We all have memories of the things we did as kids when we were caught and punished. We acted, our parents reacted. Maybe the punishment served as a diversion, maybe it didn't. I'm more interested in the things we simply had to live with, though.

My own personal stupidity started quite young; some might consider me a prodigy of poor decision-making. (It's a gift!) I have a very clear memory of spending a happy afternoon gathering up leaves and caterpillars in a coffee can, and sitting outside and watching them munch away. When it was time to go inside, I simply put the lid on the can, stashed it under the deck, and went on my way. The next day I came out to play with them again and all was well; I removed the lid and got them some fresh grass and leaves, then capped the can again when I was finished. And then… I forgot about it.

A couple of weeks later, I realized what I'd done. Opening the can revealed not just dead caterpillars (I had known that was waiting for me), but a crime scene of putrid goo and black mold that made me gag. I was horrified at what I'd done. Worse, I was convinced I was a murderer. A caterpillar murderer! What kind of monster must I be?? I buried the can in the bottom of the garbage. I was too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, which is unfortunate, as someone might've pointed out to me that 1) it was an accident and 2) there were enough tent caterpillars around that I hasn't exactly decimated their population. I felt guilty for the rest of the summer.

A few years later, in middle school, I was growing out my formerly-short mop of hair and became convinced that what I needed to transform my look was bangs. I asked my mother if I could cut some myself, and being as how I was 12 or so, she gave the only sensible answer, which was "absolutely not." She said she'd take me for a haircut if I wanted bangs, but it would have to wait. But I was an impatient adolescent, and finally, one night while my parents were out, I grabbed a pair of scissors and carefully cut my own bangs.

Now, I wasn't exactly a fledgling hairdresser, anyway. Somehow I'd gotten the idea that the thing to do was to carefully section off a perfect triangle above my forehead. I did that, then proceeded to cut. But of course, it wasn't even. So I snipped a little more. And a little more. Just to even it all up, you understand. But my hair is curly, and I was cutting it wet, so I bet you know how this ended: By the time I set the scissors down, I had a tiny triangle of half-inch-long hair above my eyebrows. I stared at my reflection in the mirror in misery. Clearly, my mother was going to kill me. School pictures were in a couple of days.

Oddly enough, my mother didn't kill me. After the initial "WHAT DID YOU DO?" she calmed down and said, "I think the logical consequence of this decision is that you live with the results." I took that to mean she wouldn't be taking me for a haircut, but it didn't make much sense to me, otherwise. Obviously I was going to have to live with the results; I wouldn't have cut off the rest of my hair to match my homemade hatchet job, so what other option was there? So I lived with it. I was teased, and it looked awful. My school picture is… not the best. But then my hair grew out and no, I never tried to cut it myself again.

If you'd asked me back then, I would've told you I learned nothing from either experience. Then again, my husband loves to tell a story of how he and his friends used to race down a big hill in shopping carts—no brakes!—and his attitude always seems to be "We sure were stupid, but nobody died."

Somehow all of these things are folded into the people we are now, and most of us aren't as dumb as we used to be. So this is what I remind myself when I see my children making choices I worry about: Maybe it doesn't make sense to them now, but hopefully someday they'll look back and realize they did learn something, and even became smarter in the process. I only hope they have this realization while biting back the urge to blurt "WHAT DID YOU DO??" at their own teens.

Tell me something dopey you did as a teen that makes you marvel at the functional adult you are now? Pretty please?

(for more mir…)

18 comments

  • Elizabeth

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    This isn’t something I did as a teen, but it reminds me of your tent caterpillar story.

    My grandfather lived in very rural Mississippi and his backyard was teeming with toads. Being an amphibian lover, I spent the entire afternoon collecting them in a bucket. When it was time to go in, I let the toads go, as had been my plan the whole time. Imagine my horror when I discover about an inch or so of dead, suffocated toads at the bottom of the bucket. I was distraught at what I had done and felt guilty forever. Heck, I still feel guilty today!

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    • Victoria

      Posted on July 17, 2012

      I sympathize, with both you and Mir.
      I made a rock house for a small frog I caught. It was a very nice house, I thought. I was 5 and certain the frog was happy.
      I also thought my parents would be happy when I brought them to view the house and it’s tennant. The tennant was no longer amongst the living and I’m not sure I’m completly over the guilt even now, close to 40 years later.

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    • Brigitte

      Posted on July 17, 2012

      Ack, I did that with baby toads when I was a kid, too – and I ALSO still feel guilty.

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      • Nicole in WI

        Posted on July 17, 2012

        Ugh! Did that with baby toads, but with bug spray on our hands as we caught them. There were bunches of mosquitoes in them-there swamps! LOL Both my friend and I were horrified that we poisoned them. :(

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  • Jennifer

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    Your caterpillar triggered a memory of my own (as did the haircutting… though I was actually much older.. college I believe and it involved hair dye as well :) ) But back to the younger me. I thought it would be great fun to collect worms and “grow” them in a large pot of dirt. I happily collected them for a week or more, placing them carefully in my chosen pot of dirt. I didn’t realize that that many worms could not possibly share such a small environment. Eventually the pot began to smell and when I emptied all the dirt out, I realized my mistake at finding all the decaying rotting worms. I don’t know if I ever told anyone the whole story, just felt intensely guilty for weeks. Poor worms, I really just loved them thats all.

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  • addy

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    Ummm taking a dead baby bird to school cuz….. ya I don’t know why. It just seemed like a good idea. But, they start to stink really bad. And then the trash in the classroom starts to stink even worse. And …. well not my finest moment ;(

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    A few dumb things come to mind but the first, silliest was when I was 7 or so and was having a problem being literal. My mother asked me to put the clothes in the dryer. I did. I did not turn it on (all she said was put the clothes in the dryer, duh). It was over 90 degrees outside and we had no air so of course the basement was stuffy and those towels were a stank mess by the time she got home from work. I told her she should have been more specific to which I was sent to my room. My father inquired about why I was in there when he got home and my mother said I’d put my foot in my mouth. I sat in that bedroom laughing at her and her idiot mind. I couldn’t even get my foot to reach my mouth and I’d been trying ever since I heard her say that nonsense. Humph.

    Clearly I could give Amelia Bedelia a run for her idiom money.

    The other dumb thing that comes to mind is hitch-hiking, which I did more than once. The time that was my next to last, though, was when the driver said he needed to make a stop first, proceeded to drive past the street leading to my house, and take me to Baltimore. All along I kept thinking I should just jump out, but maybe the movies weren’t right; that might hurt. We would up at a bonafide crackhouse, from which I decided to WALK back to DC. After 30 minutes or so (and staring at the highway trying to figure how to make that work), a nice old woman offered me a ride. She was my last ride with a stranger.

    Mir, my husband has a similar downhill for all its brakeless glory story: he and friends decided to rollerblade down one of the busiest hills in the city. Although yes, they had brakes, they knew full well they’d never be able to apply them going that fast without simply pitching forward/sideways/into a Metro bus. They did this repeatedly, bailing at the hill’s end into grassy yards/bushes/CARS, getting banged and bruised each time. To this day, they smile when discussing it, giving a fond, “And we lived.”

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    One that always come to mind for me, when we were cutting through various back yards and one had an electric fence . . we’d check if it was on by touching it! Hard to believe I tested at genius IQ in those days as well.

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  • Gigi

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    I must have been around 16 when Cindy Lauper came to town. This is the third world so no artist in the cusp of their career would come but she had just been there, so it was a big thing,of course my parents said no way in hell are you going to a rock concert (this was before smoking was banned everywhere and no ever smoked regular cigarettes at rock concerts) so logically I told them I’d sleep over at my best friend’s house. She did the same thing and so did our boyfriends and two other friends. We went by ourselves in a stolen car (sort of, it was his to drive but only during daylight), no one knew where we were and we ended up sleeping at my boyfriend’s whose parents were out of town. It could have been a disaster but we were lucky and were never even caught. Years later I learned an important lesson on not trusting teenagers ever. I hope my kids will have a harder time getting away with stuff.

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  • Ann from St. Peter MN

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    Ha! I ALSO brought a dead bird for kindergarten show and tell – I said it was a sign of spring! And in the same vein as the caterpillar story, I went down to the nearby neighborhood lake and brought home a bucket of tadpoles. I was excited to watch them for a few days, and then put them on top of the refrigerator to keep them away from the cats and promptly forgot about them. It was some time later that the kitchen was inundated with a hundred tiny little frogs about the size of my thumbnail, hopping around the kitchen. I thought my mother was going to have a stroke!

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  • Angela

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    I was about 17 YO, so OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER, and my boyfriend said he was leaving (as in, leaving my house, not breaking up with me or breaking my heart). He drove a little Honda Civic, circa 1979. I thought it’d be smart to chase after him and just as he started to slow down, I ran up to the front of his car and jumped on the hood. Yes, the car was still moving. Yes, it was approaching an intersection. I can’t really remember what happened after that, except for what my mother did – which was to run out of our house, screaming her head off at my boyfriend to stop the car. Of course, he did, and I was catapulted off the hood onto the road. Ouch.

    I never did that again. And my family (and the boyfriend, who is still a family friend but who decided to steer clear of my reckless ways and marry someone more sensible) still like to joke about the time I jumped onto the hood of a moving car.

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  • Pamela L

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    My husband used to love lizards and when he was in Kindergarten and 1st grade, he would pick up every one that he say on his way home from school. Since he had no way to hold them all, he would put them in his pockets. This, of course, meant that he forgot about them. Guess who found them on wash day while emptying pockets of boy stuff?

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  • RuthWells

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    I moved to Manhattan by myself at age just-turned-19. Between the low self-esteem, questionable taste in men and the number of times I was alone with someone I barely knew, by rights I should have had a much worse time of it than I did. I’m an atheist, but my friend’s saying “God protects the stupid” definitely applies.

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  • MomCat

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    I think often about the car I flipped (with no bruises, even), the nights I was going to be “working on yearbook” but was instead out with three friends in a car, tooling around while they drank, and various other shenanigans, not to mention the horrible things I thought about my Mother’s strict parenting.. I think on these things because I have a 17-year old with a boyfriend and I am about as welcome as pond scum to her right now. My sweet baby transformed overnight to a sullen, moody stranger. Everyone with an older girl assures me it will get better. I don’t think I was human again to my mother until I was about 22.

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  • Bryn, Isle of Anglesey, UK

    Posted on July 17, 2012

    Posted in the hope that an occasional testosterone inspired story is welcome here….

    So. There I was, aged 17 with my 1st motorbike, having gone sea fishing on our local breakwater (Holyhead, Isle of Anglesey, 1.5 miles long, 50ft+ to the rocks below at low tide…). My fishing “friends” make a casual enquiry – “How quick can you get from the land end to the lighthouse, if we put the bike on the top wall….?”
    The top wall is 4ft wide, wet with salt spray; and did I mention the 30ft drop to water at high tide? Or the 30ft drop to solid stone on the other side, once I’d bounced off the stone path below the wall….?

    I lived. No crashes, no drama, no injuries – and no memory of the ride other than 30 years+ of occasional flashback nightmares waking me up in a sweat.

    I told my son the story when I bought him his first bike – he grinned.
    He stopped grinning when I told him I’d not hesitate before throwing his bike into the Irish Sea if I as much as heard a rumour that anyone had tried to repeat my ride……

    He may have made his own mistakes elsewhere since then, but he still has his bike so I must have made contact with him at some level…..

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  • Sonia

    Posted on July 18, 2012

    Everyone does dumb stuff, when we are young and when we are not! My family used to visit keuka lake when I was little and I found some clams. I was fascinated by them…. Sme tightly clamped shut, some open a bit. Anyway, I put them in a nice dry bucket for awhile and then in the top drawer of the dresser in my room of our rented beach house. Safe next to my undies! All of the best, most interesting things go in a certain dresser drawer, right! Well, it didn’t take long for them to stink to high heaven. My mother couldn’t even fathom what I was thinking!

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  • Heather

    Posted on July 18, 2012

    I just really want to see that school photo ;)

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