I was crunching on a bowl of peanut butter panda puffs this morning and thinking about how eating cereal right away after pouring the soymilk on it is so important to avoiding a soggy bowl of cereal. And that got me thinking that this was something I had to learn after eating probably many soggy bowls of cereal as a kid. This in turn made me think about how there are so many little bits of knowledge like this that we take for granted, but that we had to learn by trial and error because they aren’t innate.
I mean, so many things. And it’s ongoing. In my first decade, I learned basic truths about how things work. Things like, if I’m walking exactly in the middle of the sidewalk, my mum walking beside me isn’t actually also walking in the middle just by virtue of being beside me – no, she is being pushed off the sidewalk. Or if I gather up cherry blossoms and throw them on passing cars with my friend, they will not think we’re brightening their day with beautiful confetti, but may in fact stop the car and get out, furious, while I run away scared I’ll be in trouble because I haven’t yet learned how to articulate my good intentions.
In my second decade, I learned how to interact with people socially, in a way that involved more depth than simply a shared interest in trading stickers or Zack Morris. Not a lot more depth, but it was qualitatively different. Navigating those early friendships and relationships was fraught with perils and we were all too young to know how to manage hiccups, like conflict and jealousy, that are explosive when handled by teenagers experiencing them for the first time. We didn’t know how to recognize who we were and how we felt, so instead we dealt with problems by complaining to others, by becoming angry, by ignoring them. We had so, so much to learn.
Then, my twenties – figuring out how to put together a life, making decisions that would significantly impact the trajectory of my life without even realizing it. Travel (where, with whom?), jobs (what, where?), education (when, what, where?), hobbies (what, when?), career (what, where?), marriage (who, when?), kids (when, how many?)… these decisions were sometimes made on whims, and so informed by the random luck of context. As that decade swept me along, I became more content, more satisfied, more confident, and along with all of this, I think, I became a better person.
And now, my thirties. Figuring out how to be the kind of person, have the kind of character, I admire. How to be patient, kind, positive, reliable, trustworthy, humble, compassionate, forgiving, and strong. How to live with appreciation, maintain perspective, and keep my cool. Oh, life just starts to get so GOOD once you’ve figured out basic cause and effect, managing complex relationships, and the who, what and where of adult life, and you start to become more and more of this person whose company you quite enjoy.
This little baby inside of me doesn’t know any of this. He doesn’t even know about gravity yet, let alone how to keep his cereal crunchy, let alone how to cultivate his best self. And as I haven’t even yet learned what challenges and rewards these next decades of my life bring, our baby sure hasn’t either.
I’m so overwhelmed by all he has ahead of him to learn, constrained by youth and inexperience. These unteachable lessons, that we figure out for ourselves as we stumble along, trying and failing, unsure and oblivious, yet alarmingly confident – I think of what my son doesn’t yet know and my head spins. I hope he likes it, this business of living.
Elizabeth Stone reportedly wrote, “Making the decision to have a child… is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I think I’m starting to understand what she meant.