When reminiscing about younger days, I often hear people say they wish they knew back then what they know now. That if they had known what they know now, they would have been unstoppable and made fewer mistakes. To have that strong, young body and all the wisdom would be incredible.
I’ve said similar things myself, I know. If I could go back to high school with all the knowledge and wisdom of my 50 plus years, oh, what couldn’t I accomplish? Right? Like, uhm, not making any friends because I know we will just lose touch in the long run. Not stressing about math because I know it will not factor into my life. Been a better driver because that ‘Cuda would be worth a mint right now. Not date that guy because he was going to break my heart into a million pieces. Not cut class because… nah, I would still have cut class. In fact, I probably would have cut class more.
The baby in the picture is me, before I knew ANYTHING but the most basic things. I knew the lady who smelled like Tide and Jergens was safe and soft and sang so sweetly. I knew the man with the big voice and bigger hands was a great knee bouncer. I knew lifting my arms up would earn me a hug. I knew a smile would make other people smile. I knew to sleep when I was tired, to laugh when I was happy, cry when I pooped my pants or was hungry.
What I did not know was the little pink dress I wore was a uniform for girl children. I did not know that when I was born people said things to Daddy like, “it won’t be long before you are walking her down the aisle” or “she’ll be breaking boys’ hearts in a few years.” I did not know that the predictions for my brothers were much different. “He looks like a little linebacker,” or “another member of Local Union 344 in the making.”
I did not know that, based on how things were arranged in my diaper area, I was named, dressed, educated, protected and provided toys – Diane, pink, typing, curfew and dolls. I did not know that one day I would be scorned for speaking up at school, work, and social situations. I did not know that my tears would be tolerated, but my opinion would not be. I did not know that based on my gender, I would be passed over for jobs, under paid, patronized. I did not know that what I wore could mean the difference between arriving home safely or not at all. I did not know I would be expected to be gentle and nurturing, when my brothers were encouraged to be men and take the bull by the horns. I did not know that being born a feminine child meant I would have to struggle and work twice as hard as my brothers for less reward.
I also did not know, while being born female, I was fortunate to have been born white. I did not know that babies of color would struggle even harder than me to get what they wanted. I did not know that people had awful names for brown kids. I did not know that those children would be punished harder for societal missteps, even when those missteps were expected by the white society they were born outside of.
I did not know that loved ones would separate over political parties, and vow allegiance to men they had never met over the family who raised them. I did not know there would be wars, executions, child abuse, poverty, genocide, domestic violence, hunger, racism, sexism, general awfulness.
The little girl in the picture, dressed in a pink and white gingham dress that is most likely a hand-me-down, did not know how much her very young parents struggled to make things work. She did not know the sacrifices her mother would make in staying home to raise her and her siblings. What she did know is that when her Daddy blew on her belly and made that funny noise, it tickled. She knew creamed bananas were the best and green beans were the worst. She knew her mother would eventually say “Peep Eye” and pop back up from behind the chair, but laughed in surprise anyway. She knew about hugs and kisses and admiration for the sheer fact that she was alive and healthy.
At the time this picture was taken, I had not known about heart break, physical pain, or hunger for any longer than it took my mother to heat up a bottle. I had not known about jealousy, rage, death, cruelty or war. I had to grow up to learn all those things. Sadly the knowledge I have gained has all but completely crowded out the joy of knowing nothing but love, the comfort and warmth of silky soft blankets, blowing dandelions, having nothing to do all day but be entertained, and laughing with my whole being in response to a belly raspberry.
As we get closer to the time to leave this life, we become more like the way we were when we arrived. We eat are wobbly on our feet and sleep in short bursts throughout the day. We eat soft food, poop our pants, rely on other people to take care of us, entertain us and give us hope. If anyone was brave enough to give us a raspberry, I’ll bet we would laugh with our whole being AND poop our pants a little.
I do not wish I knew back then what I know now, because childhood is magical. I sometimes wish I did not know what I know now. I also wish creamed bananas were sold in larger jars.
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