May 11, 2022

A Bit of Childhood Wisdom for those Messy Adult Days.


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Do you ever watch a movie, read a book, or listen to a song from your childhood and realize all the bits of adult wisdom that went right over your head back then?

Like how The Giving Tree seemed like a sweet story about a boy and his tree when I was young, but it’s really about how we abuse our environment, how we take more than we give, and how women often sacrifice too much of themselves in relationships.

Or like how Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” used to just be an old tune my dad would blast out of the speakers on a Saturday morning, but as I grew older, I realized how political and powerful the lyrics truly are.

I think this is why I often gravitate to things I loved as a kid—I’m always curious what lessons have been waiting patiently for me to discover them.

I had a similar moment this week when I sat down to rewatch “Parenthood,” the 1989 movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Steve Martin.

I remember watching this movie regularly when I was young. Something about this wacky, loving, drama-filled family reminded me of my wacky, loving, drama-filled family. But as I sat on my couch, laughing at all the parts I used to laugh at, a particular scene grabbed my attention. It had never registered to me as a kid, but now, it was the exact bit of wisdom my adult self needed to hear.

In the scene, Gil (Steve Martin) and his wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) are talking about the messiness of life, and more specifically, the messiness of raising children. The stress of watching them succeed one day and fail the next, of wondering who they’re going to be and how we might screw them up. At one point, Karen responds, “What do you want me to give you? Guarantees? These are kids, not appliances. Life is messy!”

And as Gil continues to lament the messiness, his grandmother walks in and tells a story that anyone who has struggled with messy days, or a messy life, needs to hear:

“You know, when I was 19, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down. Up, down. What a ride. I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together.

Some didn’t like it; they went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around—nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

My childhood self barely remembers this scene. But my adult self—who’s still learning to love the mess—is thankful for the reminder.


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