What They Won’t Tell You

I think we all fantasize about what would happen if we could just go back in time and tell our former self what we know now. The stupid mistakes to not make. The people to avoid. Relationships that would never work. The chances we should have taken. The people we should have ignored. The things we shouldn’t have said. The things we cared too much about.

You realize that there is so much you were never told about adulthood.

I feel like Real Life could have been made a little clearer. Instead, you get fed a steady diet of Disney fantasies as a child, dismissed as too juvenile and banished to the kid table, discredited based on age. People think sheltering children is the right thing to do. One school of thought is to “let them be kids.” But do we do that at the expense of not letting them become well-adjusted adults?

Your elders chuckle. “Just wait until you’re my age,” they tell you. “You’ll see.”

You don’t really think about what that means. When I was 18 I could only see as far as my 20’s. Everything after that was a blur. I never envisioned myself as a 30-something or 40-something or 50+ something. It’s just one of those things. Logically you know that someday you’ll get there, but not for a long time. No need to worry yet.

We grow up in an unrealistic bubble that is supposed to protect us from bad things. But really, it doesn’t prepare us for the inevitable pain we will experience.

Eventually we grow up and are forced into Real Life, some of us sooner than others. One thing is guaranteed: you are most definitely on a one-way ticket to Real Life. Your resistance only undermines your existence.

There’s no point begrudging all of the things you were never told. Except it bugs me. It bugs me and I know it’s pointless to let it bug me, but it still does.

I wonder if a better approach is to become the person you wish you had?

Maybe include the kids at the dinner table and let them be privy to conversations about politics. Let them know you value their opinion. Don’t be afraid to talk about tough subjects with them. Don’t feel the need to sprinkle their world with glitter and sugar-coat reality for them. Maybe instead of a spoonful of sugar, let them taste something bitter and talk about it.

Maybe learn from younger people. You don’t know everything in this world. It might go a long way to be open with them about how you are still learning too. That nobody really has life figured out.

You have not reached a level of adult perfection. (Life spoiler: there is no such thing.) Using the number of years you have spent on this earth as a way to dismiss other people is cheap. Stop hitting the easy button. Dare to be vulnerable.

Once I read an article about breastfeeding. It was about why breastfeeding levels are so low in the United States, and it explored why other countries had higher levels. One of their findings was that in the countries that were more successful, there were women (moms, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, etc) who were there to help the new mom. A network of support.

This is everything.

People, we are not BORN knowing how to do all the things. Even really natural things like breastfeeding. We need others to teach us and share their experience. I had so much help with my first child. One of the perks of him spending 2 months in the NICU was a staff of highly trained nurses who were lactation specialists. They weren’t just my coaches in breastfeeding, but they would encourage me in so many ways about taking care of the baby and just talk to me about life in general. I was really sad to leave them when Ethan was discharged.

We aren’t born knowing what to do in relationships, or how to buy a house, or set-up a 401K, or what to do when something breaks. Heck, I just barely figured out how to use an air pump for bicycle tires.

I like to imagine what it would have been like to have a village of people to help with Real Life. Not sugar-coated life. Real Life.

To tell me what childbirth was really about. To warn me about the feelings you would have. The impact on our bodies. The fears and sadness and frustration, and also the joy. But it’s not the kind of joy you would anticipate. It’s a joy you’ve never experienced before, nuanced by pain and desperation and soul-draining fatigue that can only come from a labor of love. A priceless and fulfilling kind of joy that sometimes doesn’t feel joyful.

To tell me what it was like to be married. The real parts of marriage, not the fairy tale facade we like to project. I wish I knew about simmering resentment that creeps into relationships, and how relationships are like being a pilot who constantly has to recalibrate the path that the airplane is on, adjusting for various conditions. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone when I thought there was something missing in my life. I thought these things were supposed to be easy, and when mine didn’t feel easy, I thought I was doing something wrong. But nobody talks about these things. I foolishly thought yours was easy and mine was hard, instead of realizing that everyone has to put in hard work. Maybe if I had people to talk about Real Life with I would have realized how ordinary my life was.

I wish people would have shared their pain from losing a loved one. Maybe then I wouldn’t have felt so alone amidst the bone-crushing pain of grief after my husband died. We’re just expected to deal with these things in isolation. Swallow it. Don’t talk about it, because other people are watching, and you might scare them. Better to just keep it to yourself. Smile. Pretend to be happy. It’s like we walk around with masks on and we can’t even see when someone looks just like us.

I was born an incredibly nosy person. I like to watch people. I learn a lot through this method. I’ve always been drawn to older friends. I’m a voracious reader. I want to know details. I like gory details. I don’t want PC details or pretty details. I want Real Life. I want to know all of it.

I guess that’s what makes me feel a responsibility to be transparent about my own experience in living. It’s what I would have liked to have in others, and maybe, just maybe, somebody out there wants it too. Someday I would like to be the person I wish I had when I was younger.

I’ll end this with 3 things I would share with someone.

#1: Getting older doesn’t mean you are getting smarter, worldier, more mature, or anything better.

I’ve heard “age is just a number” many times. But I think it’s usually thrown out there when people don’t want to feel older. It’s true. Age is just a number. You can live your entire life and still keep making the same stupid mistakes with no growth. People don’t “grow up” and cross a proverbial bridge into adulthood, where they then reside in a land of maturity and have everything figured out. Adults are children in grown bodies. That’s it. They still have insecurities. They are still catty and competitive with each other. They still throw tantrums. They can be unreasonable and cranky when they don’t get enough sleep. They get their feelings hurt. They forget. They make mistakes. It’s just that a lot of times their responses to these situations look different than a child’s. Or they are very good at covering it up. Or both.

#2: You will lose everything you think was the most important in the world…someday.

Nothing stays the same, so don’t attach so much meaning to everything. You have to be mentally prepared to embrace the impermanence of life.

Your expectations will change.

Your friends will change.

Your residence will change.

Your style will change.

Your preferences will change.

Your knowledge will change.

Things will break.

Your relationship status will change. More than once.

You will lose people in your life. Everyone will die at some point.

Maybe I was stupid. I married a man 18.5 years older than me and I figured…eh. He’ll probably die when I’m a 60-something. That’s like a zillion years away. No need to think about it now. By then I’ll be so sick of being married and I’ll just join a travel group with other retired people and yeah…that’s how it will go. And then when he was gone, it was like I had the audacity to believe that I wasn’t actually going to ever lose him.

Nothing lasts forever. Relationships definitely don’t last forever.

I felt like a fool. Why was I so oblivious to this truth? It was so simple and obvious, and yet I completely missed it.

Becoming a parent is a huge lesson in impermanence.

You start parenthood with cute little babies. And then they grow. Quickly.

Maybe parenthood wasn’t what you expected. Maybe you lost the innocence of your naive expectations.

I was oblivious with #1. But I distinctly remember the moment during my 2nd pregnancy when I said to my husband, “OH MY GOD. Something terribly horrible can happen. What if she dies? What if she has something wrong with her? What if…what if…what if??”

And here I thought becoming a parent was as cute as carrying around Cabbage Patch Dolls and smelling their baby powder scent and rocking them in beautiful wooden cradles and all that other stupid fantasy crap.

Becoming a parent is a great introduction to pain.

They get fevers. You have trips to the ER. Stuff starts to happen. There might be diagnoses. They grow and maybe they aren’t what you expected. They will get their feelings hurt. You will feel like you’ve failed them.

Children can die.

But nobody told you that Real Life was so brutal. You didn’t think about any of that when you thought it was a good idea to get pregnant and become a parent.

Bad stuff is supposed to happen to other people. Not to you. None of it is supposed to happen to you. Until it does.

You start to wonder if maybe there was a class on Adulting that you just didn’t get the memo about, and maybe other people learned something you couldn’t figure out on your own.

Today will not be the same as yesterday. Tomorrow will not be the same as today.

And that is totally NORMAL. You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s exactly the way things are supposed to be in life. Just buckle up and get ready for the roller coaster ride. NOBODY gets through life the easy way.

#3: Work hard at knowing who you are before you let someone else define it for you.

I mistakenly thought the goal in life was to find somebody as soon as possible. Get married, have kids–the natural order of things. I didn’t do it completely wrong. I lived on my own before I got married and traveled independently and all that good stuff.

But being alone isn’t valued in our society. It’s kind of considered weird. Sad. Lonely. And it can be all of those things, but it is also an important part of who we are. We need time to figure out what we like and don’t like, before we integrate other opinions (i.e. significant others, children, etc) into our lives, because all of these people will attempt to impose their wills on you.

When my husband died, there were things that came back into my life that I realized I had lost in the 9+ years I was with him. It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing. As much as I worked on who I was before I met somebody, and as headstrong as I am, I still let a lot of who I was go in the name of relationship compromise. Things I didn’t want to let go. When they came back to me, I remember thinking, “Oh hello. Yes. I remember you. This is who I really am. Nice to see you again.”

Young people often are told not to rush to find a significant other. They often don’t listen, because who wants to be alone? Maybe I would take it a step further to explain to them that there are pros and cons to being in a relationship vs. being alone. There is no right or wrong. There is no timeline. Maybe we need to stop putting so much emphasis on finding a spouse as being a major life accomplishment for young people. Maybe it isn’t an accomplishment at all. Maybe it’s just something that we do, of no greater value than any of the other things we do.

What did you want to know when you were younger? What do you wish somebody would have told you?

I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface.

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