As kids, we want to know everything. As soon as we start to talk, we begin to ask questions, "why?" and "how?" are very popular. If we are lucky enough to have books, we start devouring them, searching for all of the answers. Kids want to know why the sky is blue, or why a zebra has stripes. Kids wonder where the garbage goes when you turn on the disposal, where babies come from and when Grandma or Grandpa are going to be done visiting Heaven. As kids, we recognize that there is this whole world out there waiting for us, and we want to know everything there is to know about everything inside of it.
As teenagers, we decide that our universe is limited. We are obsessed with only those things that directly affect us, the cars that our friends drive, the shows their parents let them watch. We are convinced that we know everything about our little universe and that our parents know nothing at all (or at the very least, that our parents know, but don't love us enough to care.) We recognize that there might be more to the world than our little universe, but we don't care. We think that we know all that we need to know, about the things that surround us, and that is all we need to know.
In our 20s, we decide that we know everything. Whether its because of life experiences or because of things we've read in books or heard from our teachers, we think that we know it all. About everything, everywhere. We are once again aware of the vast universe around us and we think we know everything about that too. Remember when you were in your 20s? You would hear a story and you would immediately draw conclusions and make proclamations about the situation. I was in my 20s when the whole Bill Clinton/ Monica Lewinski thing broke. I thought he was a moron, I thought Monica was an idiot and I thought Hillary should have dropped that man like a cheap pair of shoes. Now having the benefit of a few years wisdom, I recognize that there is no way I could have possibly known what the people in that situation were going through, certainly not enough to judge their decisions. (and after reading Hillary's book, I'm still not sure what the heck happened in that situation.)
I remember doing it with people I would see out at the mall or in a restaurant as well. I would see someone sitting down to dinner at 9 p.m. with a baby in a high chair and I would judge them. "That baby should be in bed." I would see a child throwing a tantrum and I would think to myself "my child is not going to act like that." All of this in my 20s. I had not yet been married, I had no real concept of what it takes to make a relationship work and I certainly didn't have any children. But there I sat, in all of my "infinite wisdom," passing judgment on others and making grand statements about how I would do things when I got married/ had kids/ etc. I think I even made comments about how people lived. "Well, when I get married and have my own house, we're going to have a family dinner every night." Or maybe "when I have my own house, I'm not going to let the junk pile up, and I'm going to keep it clean." Well, it only takes getting to your 30s for the reality of "real life" to sink in.
I think for some people, the reality hits when you get married and have kids. But for me, I think it took getting to my 30s for the light bulb to come on. Then again, I was 28 when I got married, so maybe I'm behind the curve. In any event....
At some point in your 30s (I think), you realize that you don't know anything. You're now married and possibly lucky enough to have a child or children. You look around at the piles of junk and clutter in your home and wonder where it came from, who it belongs to and when they are going to put it away. You marvel at the spot on the steps where you once laid 2 pieces of paper, and wonder how it became a mountain of books, shoes, socks, toys and paper, waiting to be put away. You giggle at the thought of having family dinners every night, when you and your hubby are coming home at 7, with just enough time to give the little one a bath and put her to bed, only to then collapse on the couch, exhausted, wishing you had enough money to hire a personal cook.
The thought of keeping a 3000 square foot house clean all on your own induces fits of maniacal laughter, causing the neighbors to question your sanity. You come to the realization that there aren't enough hours in the day and there are more important things to be doing than standing over a toilet, armed with Lysol and a brush. If you are lucky enough to be able to hire someone to do it for you, you can only hope that they would do as good of a job as you would, if you could only find the time.
If you have kids, you laugh at yourself and the superior knowledge you once thought you had. You find yourself sitting in a restaurant at 9 p.m., trying to stay awake yourself, while you feed your hungry child. You know that the idea of putting her down to sleep would have brought on screams to wake the dead, so you opted to take her out to eat instead. Hey, we've all got to eat, even the ones that poop it out faster than it goes in. You snicker at yourself when your 2 year old sits down on the ground and refuses to take one more step unless she gets her favorite toy, because you once thought that you would be able to do it so much better. God is laughing, too, because she is getting her revenge on you for thinking you know it all.
Through all of it, you come to the realization that you don't know anything. You have no idea why your child refuses to go to bed, even though she is falling asleep on the floor in the living room. You have no idea why one day she wants pancakes and the next day she throws them across the room. You can only wonder why she will start to cry for no reason and want a hug one minute and run away from you the next.
I think when we hit our 30s, we wake up and realize that the world is a vast place, with so many different people and places and things, and it would be impossible for any one person to know everything about everything. We realize that we sometimes have trouble mastering our own little universe, that we sometimes have no idea or clue why even the people around us behave the way we do.
It's at this point that we begin to salvage our sanity, recovering our ability to let things go. We accept that we will not be perfect parents, that our children will throw temper tantrums in public, that other parents will nod and maybe offer a comforting smile, having been there once as well. We accept that the people we love might hurt us, whether they mean to or not. We accept that we might not know the ones we love as well as we thought, and we resolve to get to know them better. We understand that there are times to forgive and maybe not forget. We realize that our children will go through this exact same path and hopefully come out o.k. on the other side.
As the light dawns over our heads, we look back at the 20-somethings in their skimpy outfits, getting ready to go out to the clubs and dance the night away, and we smirk. We know that their boobs will shrink or sag, that the love handles will pop out, and that no amount of running on the treadmill will get rid of that little tummy poof. We giggle knowing that the light will eventually go on and life might hit them like a ton of bricks. They too will wake up one day and realize that they knew nothing about anything. They too will realize that in a situation where they once passed judgment, they may find themselves forced to make the same decisions, and they may finally realize how it really feels to be in the trenches.
It's amusing now, looking back, to think that I could have ever known what it was like to keep a house for a family, without actually having a house and a family, to understand what it means to be married and make a relationship work, without actually being married, or to understand what it takes to be a parent, without actually being one. You can't. Plain and simple.
At some point, we stop partying late and start going to bed early. We stop spending money on make-up and start buying diapers. (o.k., maybe not the make-up, we all need make-up, right?). We stop drinking cocktails and start drinking milk. We realize that we are morons and that we know nothing about anything. We start to grow up.