This is one of those posts that sounded profound and original one night at 3am… and a little less so as time passed – that, and less coherent.
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People told me what to expect before, but I always humored them. I’m not stupid. I’d see this thing coming way before it happened to me. I wouldn’t be so easily fooled.
Then a few nights ago it happened to me. We were sitting in a restaurant, me and Adam on one side of the table, Beth and Cheryl on the other. As I looked across the table I was struck dumb by what I saw – two heads – one level.
One minute I’m thinking: yeah, she’s in middle school, but I’ve got plenty of time. She’s still a tiny thing. Then in the blink of an eye:
There are five years left of what society deems “childhood.” Am I foolish enough to think she’ll disappear in a ball of smoke at the stroke of midnight on that last day? Well, no. But I also realize my child is already gone. In her place is this awkward, child/adult hybrid.
Parents tell stories about events in their childs’ lives and we automatically say, “oh, I can’t imagine.” On some, abstract level we know we can’t. The fun is in learning we really can’t – or couldn’t.
I realized parenthood isn’t just an exclusive club. You know how we are: “you can never imagine what it’s like to have a child until you do.” But we have cliques too. The empty nesters. The multi-birthers (some prefer the hormonaly challenged). The all girl team. The all boy team. The uni-child. The zip code. The pre-teeners. The teeners. The post-teeners (also known as the lingerers). The mix-teeners.
And so on.
Then the larger, simpler truth hit me. It was right there all along, looking me in the face. Why is it the simple truths sometimes seem harder to grasp? Is it just me? What am I getting at? What is the saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes?
Sometimes it’s hard to understand someone’s life until you’ve lived it. Parenthood happens to be a good tool for bringing a lot of people together. A lot of people share the general experience. But as we put on one pair of shoes, when our first child is born, and we take another off, do our paths irreversibly diverge from the herd?
Do we know less than we think we do about both lives: the one we left behind as well as the one we joined – in the way I took for granted Beth’s growing up? Are we no better authority of the lifestyle of the childless, at our age, than those without kids can be of ours? I’ll wager they’re not the same shoes we wore ten or twenty years ago. They changed – just like parenting changes as our kids grow, maybe with as many “cliques” (or more) as we merry parents.
Now I wonder if/how this “toe in the shoe” phenomenon plays out in the wider human experience.
Was it present when that asshole was smoking behind Cheryl at a Gator game (many moons, two kids, and one wedding ago), prompting a mild asthma attack.
“Ah… I’ve coughed before. It can’t be that bad.”
Perhaps that’s an extreme example – with a lot of willful ignorance, and more than a touch of jack-assery thrown in.
But I wonder how often this kind of thing leads us to draw the wrong conclusions about life.
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I’m sorry. This post probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d talked it out with someone. I should try that sometime.