(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…)