3 things I’ve learned about my childhood through my experiences as an adult….

Happy Late-February, Everyone!

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: The once a week posting is probably not going to happen. This is probably a good thing because I will only post when I have something to say. Nobody wants to read my mindless ramblings. As amusing as my high school blog is to read, I find myself wondering why I thought anyone would care what I had for breakfast on a particular morning. Or that I went to the library by myself. Or the fact that I drank coffee. Nobody wants to know about those things unless there is a particular story connected with said activities.  I will spare you the play-by-play and the random thoughts with no conclusions.

However, as it so happens, I do have something to talk about today. As I am now in my second full year of teaching middle school students, I am finding myself at odds with my inner adolescent. Looking back, I remember what it was like to be my students’ age. I remember certain things being huge deals. For instance, the fact that I was finally allowed to drink coffee at the tender age of 14, or spend an hour in the library without my parents, were very big deals at that age! I remember being annoyed at the unreasonableness of adults, and I remember thinking they didn’t understand me, despite their insistence that they were once teenagers too.

Now, as a middle school teacher in a small private school where I actually have the opportunity to be involved in my students’ lives, I find myself looking in a mirror. I see a completely different side of things and part of me hates myself for it.  I am now the adult with “unreasonable” expectations that I no longer see as unreasonable. I am now the adult who “doesn’t understand” and thinks teenagers are being overly dramatic. I find myself having the same interactions I had with my parents, giving the same speeches I resented as a teenager, and all the while thinking, “I’ve been here before.”  I have become the enemy. I see it in their eyes which they barely manage to resist rolling after I change their seating arrangements. I hear it in their voices as they protest some new rule I have made as a result of their poor choices.

On the other hand, I look back on my teenage years and I see things that I couldn’t see before.  The phrase, “You’ll understand someday.” is so irritatingly true. It’s what people say when they realize no amount of lecturing will result in understanding.  I can’t tell you the number of times my parents, youth ministers, youth interns, and other adults in my life would tell me things they wish they had known when they were my age.  I remember thinking, “Yeah, that’s nice, but you just don’t understand what it’s like to be me.” Now as an adult having experienced all the things they were talking about I think, “Dang it! Why didn’t I listen?”. Some things you just have to experience before you can understand. Thus “blessed” with a greater perspective on life, I look back at scenes in my childhood and I notice an entirely new dynamic that was not there before.  And so, here are three things about my childhood I didn’t understand until I was an adult:

1. Half the time, adults were preaching to themselves.
Adults, with all their experience and hard-won knowledge, were desperately trying to impart wisdom to a group of adolescents with no framework with which to fit this knowledge. Yeah, we knew sex before marriage was wrong, but we didn’t really understand why that was difficult. We knew we were supposed to love everyone, because that’s what Jesus would do, but what did that really mean, anyway? Try teaching a lesson on love to a group of adolescents. 1 Corinthians 13 has a WHOLE different meaning to me now as an adult than it did as a teenager. As a teenager, my only thought was how to apply this passage to my future husband. This wonderful man who was going to love me like no other. He was going to be my prince charming and we would live happily every after because we waited for marriage.  As an adult, I read this chapter and wonder how anyone can think love happens by chance? Love is HARD. Try applying this verse to your husband or wife when they get on your nerves! Try applying this to a coworker who is making work life really difficult. Try applying it to a teenager who is making it very difficult to LIKE him, let alone love him. I try to impart all this wisdom to my 6th and 7th graders. I am met with a mixture of silly answers, blank stares, and only a few expressions that show me they are trying to digest this hard truth about life. Can they fully understand this hard truth at this tender stage of their life? Probably not. Do I still think it is a valuable lesson for them to hear now? Absolutely. Even if they don’t know what to do with it now, someday it will come back to them and make sense.

2. A lot of the time, adults DIDN’T know the right answer.
This is kind of a scary thought, but one I have pondered a lot recently. I remember being in youth group with adults in charge who were my current age and older. I thought they knew everything….or at least they thought they knew everything. They had arrived at that magical place called “adulthood” where they always made the right choice, and always knew the right answer. This is why they were in charge. I’m twenty-seven years old and I am still waiting for this magical transformation to happen to me. I suspect I’m going to be waiting for some time too. On the other hand, there were those adults who were out of touch with the younger generation, didn’t understand us, and therefore could not always make the right decision concerning us.  Imagine my dismay at being partly correct.  I have moments in my interactions with my students when I question if I really made the correct move in my instruction or disciplining of a particular student. I have moments when I am certain I did not.  I look back ten years and I see my parents struggling with decisions they made concerning me and my siblings.  Suddenly, their inconsistencies as parents become forgivable. Adults are humans. They try their best, and they are just as heartbroken as their kids when they turn out to be wrong.

3. Secretly, adults were actually jealous of us.
Not that my parents actually wanted to go back and relive their adolescent years. However, adulthood comes with a loss of innocence about the world.  I remember having so much fun goofing off and talking about silly things with my friends. I remember being able to write carefree journal entries explaining my thoughts to the world because everyone was entitled to my opinion. I remember what it was like to daydream. Thankfully, I have not completely grown out of that.  The difference now is that I know what reality is. Back then, anything was possible. It’s a lot easier to be strong in your faith when your parents are handling all the “adult” realities. It’s a lot harder when you can’t escape them. I look back and I see condescending smiles turn into happy smiles reflecting on their own childhood innocence.  At the time I resented it because I thought they were patting me on the head and telling me how cute I was.  Some of them were.  However, I think at least some of the time, they were just happy for me and my innocent, joyful outlook on life.

It is good to look back and understand things in a new light. Maybe by looking back and understanding my childhood a little better, I will be better equipped to bridge the gap in maturity as I work with my students. It’s true: they have a limited perspective on life. That’s not their fault. Just because I see their daily dramas as insignificant does not mean they are not important. If I recognize the fact that I have not “arrived” at the magical adulthood where everything makes sense, then I must allow that my daily dramas are also insignificant in the eternal scheme of things.  Yet to me, they are my entire world. I am just an angsty middle schooler in God’s great classroom of life.  How thankful I am that God does not brush away my concerns and frustrations with life because He has more important things to do.  God knows where I am, and He knows where I am going, and He is going to help me get there. May I be more like Him in my dealings with immature middle schoolers. Because really, we are the same.

 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

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