Here’s what they tell you about life:
You can do anything you set your mind to. Good things happen to good people, and vice versa. When you fall in love, “you’ll just know.” Cursive is an important thing to learn. Humpty Dumpty is an egg, even though absolutely nothing in the nursery rhyme ever indicates this.
But I’ve come to learn that while the adults who shaped my formative years certainly meant well… they left a lot out.
And so, in no particular order, here are the things they forgot to mention.
1. There isn’t just right and wrong, good and bad, black and white. In children’s books and movies, you’re often spoonfed the appropriate reaction to every ethical or existential dilemma. We know we’re supposed to hate Ursula because she stole Ariel’s voice and tricked Prince Eric. She did bad things which made her a bad character.
But the thing is, the world is a chaotic tapestry of all colors and shades, and not every action will be purely good or bad. People, likewise, aren’t conveniently plopped into precategorized buckets of good and evil. There are veritable saints who do terrible things, and murderers who commit good deeds. There are people who do bad things with good intentions, and those who have just lost their intention along the way. In your post-Disney-movie life, expect to encounter a lot of gray area.
2. Some questions don’t have a right answer. In school, and particularly with the invention of scantrons, we were taught that there is ONE accurate response to every question, while the rest are incorrect. And so we were primed, at an early age, to believe that every situation has one correct path – and that with enough preparation and intuition, we’ll know which one it is.
But in reality, sometimes when you’re making a decision, both options will have an equal list of pros and cons. You’ll survey everybody in your life, get a ton of conflicting advice, and be even more confused than when you started. There will be no clear, obvious direction and you’ll be forced to ask a question that as children, we’re never taught to answer: What do you actually want? What would make you the happiest?
3. You will make mistakes. I can’t stress this enough. Maybe this was just me – but as a child, a part of me honestly believed that adulthood meant you reached a time when you were all done screwing up. Like there was some tally being kept somewhere, and at a certain point you reached your quota, and now it was time to move forward into being a grown-up… where mistakes were a thing of the past, and instead you went around punishing kids for their mistakes.
But mistakes are a part of life. Without them, we’d be stagnant creatures. Never moving forward, never learning. Here’s the thing: you WILL fuck everything up, and you’ll feel awful, and just when things are starting to turn around you’ll fuck it all up again. You’ll blow off friends for stupid reasons and you’ll forget to call your mom back. You’ll say things you don’t mean (or things you do, but that you should have kept to yourself anyway). You’ll make messes. You’ll hurt feelings. Something important, at some point, will be all your fault. It’s just a fact of life.
4. Your heart will break. Inevitably. Maybe it’s just the kind of thing that is impossible to prepare someone for, which is why I’ve always felt so utterly unprepared. How can you tell a sunny, bright-eyed child that someday, without a doubt, they will give their heart to someone only to have it thrown on the ground and stomped on?
But it will happen. The rug will be pulled out from under you, and it will be the most damnable, pitiful thing. You’ll feel like someone hollowed you out with an ice cream scoop, and there will be a big gaping hole where in your middle where laughter once was. Colors will lose their vibrance, food will become tasteless, and days will slog on like a funeral march. You will feel like you’re the only person in the history of the world to have experienced this acute pain – and simultaneously, you will know for an absolute fact that every heartbroken love song was written for you.
5. Sometimes you’ll be lonely. Did we even know the word “lonely” as kids? I was an only child for the first six years of my life, and I never remember uttering it – I had my books and journals to keep me company. But somewhere along the way, we started needing other people around to feel whole, to obtain a sense of belonging.
And as such, there will be times when you’ll feel the twang of loneliness at your heartstrings. Maybe it will be after a breakup, or maybe it’ll just be after moving to an unfamiliar city. Loneliness will get you in a chokehold and won’t let go. You’ll be so lonely that you’re sure you’re the only one left, that everyone else has progressed without you. The rest of the world matured and moved on and now lead happy, fulfilled lives – and you missed the train, it’s too late, you’ll never have what they have. Loneliness is a sickly-sweet poison, and it will taunt and immobilize you.
6. You really SHOULD do all the things your parents bug you about. Sometimes I wonder what my mom and I would even talk about if I would just go ahead and get an oil change already. Because well-intended or not, parental advice begins to coalesce into an annoying gray blob of jabber after awhile. Yes, I’ll take my car in. Yes, I’ll ask my boss about insurance. Yes, I’ll call Grandma. I just can’t help it – as a daughter, I assume it must be written in my DNA that whenever my parents instruct me to do something, it gets filed in a mental folder entitled “sure, when I get to it.”
But KIDS. You need to GROW OUT of this habit. You should floss, because one day teeth cleanings will be your financial concern, not your parents’. You should wear sunscreen, because there will come a time in your life when you actually do start to notice new freckles on your shoulders and it will worry you enough to start googling “early signs of skin cancer.” If someone gives you an article of clothing as a gift, you really SHOULD wear it the next time you see them. You should sit up straight. You should watch less TV and spend more time outside. You should eat your vegetables. You should say “please” and “thank you.”
7. Life is hard. Maybe I was told that, I don’t know, but if so it certainly wasn’t spelled out. I thought “life is hard” was just a quaint cat poster pinned to an office wall. I thought I understood it, back then, as a funny little inside joke that was-true-but-maybe-wasn’t-exactly-true.
But it is. Life is really, really, unequivocally, unexplainably hard. Life will be so hard that you’ll feel betrayed or cheated somehow. You’ll think everyone else has it easier, that you got the short end of the stick. You’ll constantly compare yourself to others, and you will always lose. You’ll start to lose hope for the future; you’ll start to wonder what the point even is.
8. But, life is also amazing. For all the trials and tribulations and confusions and heartaches life brings… it also blows your mind with its joy and surprises. The human experience is one of constant discovery and connection, and without all the crappy parts of life… we’d never appreciate the peaks.
I am writing this at a time in my life when numbers 1-7 are intimately, excruciatingly familiar to me. But the moral of the story is, there’s always tomorrow. And historically speaking, tomorrow is when # 8 rears its beautiful head.