I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I don’t hang out with children all that often. I don’t have any, all my friends that do live out in the burbs, and my yuppie neighborhood is almost an exclusively kid-free zone. Every now and then one wanders in my Starbucks or crosses my path while walking through the city and I look at them like they’re some kind of rare animal. It’s like, I know they are out there and that they exist in the world but is this really the correct environment for these things?
I’ll tell you a little secret: I was a kid once. I had lots of friends and lots of free time since my mother was always off working two jobs and I was terrifyingly independent. When I think back to what I experienced it is shocking by today’s standards. Beginning after 2nd grade, I walked a mile and a half to and from elementary school every single day. I could and would buy fireworks at the local grocery store when I was nine years old and numerously caught things on fire – intentionally and unintentionally. And by age 10 I was calling and ordering my own delivery along with having the approval to forge my mothers signature when paying with checks. Granted, we lived in the suburbs but nonetheless almost unbelievable what I was allowed to get away with when I was young. But see, I didn’t know any different. If you are raised with a cow in your backyard, you don’t realize it’s strange until someone comes over and tells you that shit is weird.
Today, children fascinate me. I didn’t have children in my 20s and 30s like everyone else. When I see people interact with kids, it always seems like they are more of a burden than anything. Parents are constantly reprimanding their kids or telling them what they are doing wrong. Sit down. Stop being loud. Eat certain things. And I get it. Kids don’t know any better and parents are attempting to tell them the right direction. Because some kids just don’t realize it’s dangerous to light off fireworks next to your baby sister then freak out when they burn holes in her dress. That was a tough one to explain. I mean, no one ever told me to NOT light a bowl of gasoline on fire or what might happen if I kicked it over. I just see parents constantly scolding their children and rarely explaining why. And when I say something, parents always tell me about how exhausted they are or how they do their best to explain things but the kids don’t listen. It has got to be draining to have to attempt to wrangle this hyperactive thing that doesn’t yet understand social graces. But I don’t have kids, so when I show up somewhere with children I almost feel like it’s my responsibility to attempt to explain to them what their parents won’t. Sure, that might be a bit arrogant but I remember that I was once a kid and no one ever outright told me to not do certain very dangerous things. Not because my mother or teachers or neighbors didn’t care, but that they were busy and had their own lives to lead.
I once sat down with three pre-teen boys. We were just sitting next to a pond, taking shelter from the oppressive summer sun when I looked over and said, “Hey, has anyone ever told you to not do drugs?” They kind of meekly looked up and said, “Yeaaah.” But then I asked, “But did they tell you why?” They all kind of looked around and didn’t know how to answer the question. One of the boys said, “Because we can overdose and die.” While not completely untrue, it is just not very realistic. I said, “Do you know that guy who lives on your street who is always in and out of jail and when you see him he’s always sleepy. You know the guy who is always in trouble for stealing and who took your skateboard?” They said, “Yeah.” I said, “That’s what drugs can turn you into.” I could see they were slightly confused, like they didn’t believe me. That was until a neighbor came over and confirmed that he used to be a really intelligent and nice kid until he found meth and heroin. You could almost see their faces say, “Holy shit.” It was then that I realized that it’s not just what you tell kids, but how you explain it. Since then, when I talk to kids I always pretend they are always asking “why?” after you tell them something.
My mother gave me the family mini-van for my 16th birthday. I loved carting a dozen of my friends to the local Denny’s and punk rock shows on the weekends. But one day my van wouldn’t start. I had a mechanic friend come over who took a look at the engine and asked, “Uh, when was the last time you changed the oil?” I said, “I have to change that?” He just looked at me, shook his head and said, “You need a completely new engine. This van in done.” And it was. But see, no one ever TOLD me I needed to change the oil. Or maybe they did, but no one told me, “Hey, if you don’t change the oil every few thousand miles the cylinders will overheat from friction and weld themselves into the engine block making your van inoperable.” If someone would have not just “told” me but explained “why”, maybe I would have been more attentive.
I was once a kid. I had curly hair and I was a spaz and I never shut up. I liked going to the arcade and shooting streetlights out with BB guns and playing ding-dong-ditch. Then one day I was a grown man. I didn’t even see it coming. 4th grade doesn’t even seem so long ago. I mean, I can still remember where I sat in the back of Ms. Edwards class next to Doug and I remember the navy blue Nikes he was wearing when my vomit splashed all over them. I know people see me as an adult man but I can’t even really see that. It’s like the world is just telling me this lie and everyone has agreed to go along with it. But I am a man I should be expected to act like one. And that means understanding how to express my emotions in a productive manner, attempting to understand my insecurities, doing my best to improve myself, treating people with respect who have earned it, and yeah, I suppose at least knowing “why” the oil in my car needs to be changed.
There are other people in this world who were kids once too. People who call themselves “adults” that you may have run into along the way. You may have even tried dating a few here and there. And it was frustrating because they didn’t know the right way to treat the people they claimed to love. Sure, maybe they didn’t give you everything that you wanted, but that’s not what respect and love is about. When you agree to share love with another person, you enter into a pact. An emotional agreement that says, “Neither of us are perfect – but it is our job to at least TRY to be perfect for each other.”
What does that mean? It means that as an “adult” it is our responsibility to respect the trust and vulnerability someone is giving us. That when you hold me and you let out an exhale of “this is what I have always wanted”, if I have an ounce of respect for you, well it is my responsibility to honor that. But sometimes I don’t know how because someone wasn’t there to teach me all the right things at all the right times. I am a combination of hundreds of teachers. Some terrible, some well-intentioned, and only a few who took the time to tell me the “whys” of love and life. So if I stumble along the way, I am sorry. If I have ever told you “I love you” just know that I am trying. I am doing my very best to honor what you have given me because I know it doesn’t come easy for you. And if I fuck up, tell me. I am a man, and a man – an “adult” should be able to handle constructive criticism, especially if my inadequacy comes at the expense of your happiness.
We all fall short when it comes to honoring the love, trust, and vulnerability people have given us. There is no shame in not knowing. But it is our obligation to help someone understand the “whys” of our love. Our partner needs to truly digest why our soul needs to be fed and what it is that truly nurtures the bond we have. And that is our job within a relationship.
We are all just little kids who got old. One day we looked in the mirror and we had wrinkles and little grey hairs and people expected us to be responsible and pay taxes. Most of us weren’t ready but we had to jump in and swim as best as we could. And maybe it wasn’t fair but here we are. And somewhere along the line maybe we talked some amazing person with questionable taste into loving us back. And hooray for us. But understand that everyone we meet is just a little kid who got old and maybe no one taught them how to change the oil along the way. Maybe no one explained to them that a relationship takes compromise and actual effort. And maybe no one told them that the secret to a healthy relationship DEMANDS understanding and empathy. And if you aren’t willing to do these things for you partner, then no – you do have not earned a healthy relationship. But if you do, if you truly put in the work to understand what your partner needs to feel loved and they are unwilling to reciprocate in a fair way, well then, they are not ready to honor the “whys” of your heart and maybe it’s time for you to move on, up, forward, and away.