When I graduated from high school, I remember breathing a giant sigh of relief as a 3-year-long weight lifted.
It was over.
I hadn’t been one of the popular kids, nor had I been one of those kids who just couldn’t seem to fit anywhere.
I hadn’t been bullied, but I had been teased on occasion, and my gentle, non-confrontational nature had put me in a place where, when faced with petty judgement, I wasn’t really sure how to stand up for myself besides taking it (stunned) and walking away.
I had excelled in languages and the arts, but I had endured my fair share of mediocrity, and yes, even “failure” in math and science.
I wasn’t remarkably athletic, but I could play a mean game of badminton.
I had good friends who were good kids, and I didn’t have any enemies that I can remember, though I did learn to keep my distance from those I knew to be two-faced, energy vampires, or fair weather friends.
There had been highs and lows. It hadn’t been easy, but it hadn’t been total hell. I had made it through in one piece, and now it was time to move on, to grow up, which was, after all, one of the things I had looked forward to the most. I had been an old soul in a young body for a long time and I was ready for my ‘ages’ to match up a bit more closely.
In those final few days of high school, all I could taste was, well, the Summer, first and foremost, but a close second was the university experience. It just had to be above and beyond the cliqueyness, a different world than the one where students complained about “religious kids” praying around the flagpole in the mornings, or where gentle souls were harassed on account of their sexual orientation.
One morning, on the drive to one of the final days of school, I expressed to my Dad how grateful I was to no longer have to put up with the pettiness and judgement that occurs in that messy fishbowl time of life. He promptly let me in on a little secret:
“High school never really ends.”
My heart sank. Way to burst my bubble, Dad.
I couldn’t fathom at the time how this could be true…
But he was right.
And it wasn’t in University that I began to see this playing out…
It was in the “real world.”
Over the last few years, I have watched my friends establish themselves in marriages, career paths of all varieties, and eventually begin to start families. Though I am fortunate to be connected to — and surrounded by — people who are generally very accepting, understanding and open-minded, it doesn’t make us all immune to the judgements of those who haven’t figured out that their high school high horse isn’t the only mode of transportation on the long trail ride of life.
These stories of ‘adult shaming’ aren’t always told, but I know amazing, compassionate, intelligent and devoted women and men, mums and dads, who have been given raised eyebrows or flat-out judgement for their choices in every arena from their intimate relationships to their careers, pregnancies/childbirths, and eventually scrutinized for every micro decision possible involved in raising and caring for their children. The easy access soapbox of the internet and social media doesn’t always make this easier on anyone. No one can even make a peep about vaccination online without provoking a fiery debate, and dietary choices that are made for the betterment of health become the subject of questioning and criticism. We’re all learning to navigate the world in the best way that we can, and instead of extending a hand of understanding, we create a wall of difference and separation.
I’m positive this ad put out by Similac last week will be making serious rounds on the internet. If you haven’t seen it, do, whether you’re a parent or not. I found my laughter turning, on a dime, into tears. It was enough to make me realize what ridiculous lengths we can go to in order to prove we are ‘right,’ when in fact, our intentions, though different on the outside, may very likely be growing from the very same root — a strong, sincere, imperfect desire to do our best, and to keep ourselves and our loved ones thriving. As the prolific poet and philosopher Mark Nepo said, “What we reach for may be different, but what makes us reach is the same.”
Be kind, mamas (and papas, too).
We’re not in high school anymore.