I was filling up a cup with water during a gathering with friends when I noticed a tiny line forming. Behind me, one of our friend’s children, a well behaved third grader, was waiting to go next. Trying to be the proper adult, I went to offer him my cup of water and then make another one for myself. That’s when I noticed his cup already had juice in it.
Oh. Your cup already has juice in it?
I stepped aside and he walked up to the spigot on the cooler.
Yeah. I’m putting water in it. My mom and dad said it has too much sugar.
That should have been the end of the conversation. After all, it’s good that they are regulating his sugar. It’s good that he’s following directions. Everything is good. This was the point where I was supposed to have just walked out of the room.
Of course, the social awkwardness that lurks just below my surface won’t allow that. I can’t leave a person alone in a room without some sort of parting comment and “goodbye” is weird unless you’re going home. So, just as I was leaving, I turned from the door way and said:
Well, one day you’ll be an adult. Then you can have all the sugar you want. Ha ha.
I waited for the same polite laughter that most adults give me after a pointless remark I force out in order to walk away. That didn’t happen.
Instead, his eyes grew wide as if I had just introduced an idea that he hadn’t thought much about. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I had a feeling I may have screwed up. I gave half a frightened laugh and slowly backed out of the room.
That’s when I realized that I had become the weird adult.
You know weird adults. They’re not new. They’re old. They were old when we were kids and come in all varieties. They change from kid to kid and just a passing moment can turn the most normal of us into a weirdo memory for a kid that will last a lifetime.
I had them. I had Aaron Reynolds grandfather who would threaten to “whoop all ya’asses” if you walked too close to the garage. Anywhere within about ten feet earned a crazed threat. I was never sure if he was hiding something in there or if he was just a violent old man, but I think it was a mixture of the two. The second part might have led to the first part. I don’t know. I try not to think about it.
He was right up there with David Perez’s dad, who apparently had some insane conversations with him. I know this because David came to school one day and proclaimed:
Yo. My dad told me that a human being is worth five dollars. Can you believe that?! Fie’dollas!
What stuck with me about that moment was the way he said it. It wasn’t like, “Do you guys think that makes sense? It’s weird, right? What does it even mean?” Nope. It was more like stating facts. He was simply telling us new information and marveling at the low market value. In the decades that followed since that elementary school moment, I’ve always tried to piece together the backstory in my head. What could he have possibly overheard that brought him to that conclusion? Why would he be told that? Every scenario I can imagine is more twisted than the last.
All these crazy memories have sat in my brain and come out like rapid fire at times. There was my 8th grade friend Ryan, whose mother told us that we should never smoke marijuana…but if we do, we should get it through her because she’ll get us “the good stuff.” There was my third grade teacher who devoted entire afternoons to screaming and bad mouthing our parents. There was my camp counselors who insisted that each kid let them bite their ice cone first just in case “bad people might put bad things in them”. I could go on, but you more than get the idea. I’m pretty sure you could rattle off your own list. You’re probably doing it right now.
The thing that makes us seem like regular adults to one another but crazy to kids is that we’re not used to interacting with them. When grown-ups talk, we let a lot of weird things slide. People make bizarre comments or overshare, forcing you to wince for a moment, but continue on almost instantly. Poof. Gone. Tell a five year old that waffles grow on trees and they’ll remember that insanity for a lifetime.
What I love most about this whole weird grown-up thing is that it relates to anyone reading this. Anyone over the age of about 12 counts. I can’t tell you how many life lessons I took as gospel from babysitters that, in hindsight, were barely out of grammar school. To a seven year old, an 11th grader might as well be 80.
At the end of the day, no matter how slick you think you are and no matter how smooth your swagger, you’ll always be rocked back down to Earth by the sideways look of an eight year old. Your off-hand comment today could be repeated back to you in twenty years and you’ll never see it coming. Whether it’s from the CEO of a sugar company or just a lowly waffle farmer, it will happen. So be ready.