This is a saying that has annoyed me for decades. I first learned it from my parents while being scolded for one thing or another. How many of you grew up with “you’re old enough to know better than to do / hit / push / knock / punch that …” The scars, bruises and misaligned noses are living proof of that. Yes, we were probably old enough to know better, but reason and self-control had a nasty habit of being blatantly absent during childhood.
Then came the decades of teachers who never hesitated to drill it into our heads that certain behaviours and values should be age-appropriate. “You are old enough to know better than go out partying before an exam / the eve before the term paper or book report is due / before a big game / not study for a test / skip a class / hang out with the crowd you obviously don’t fit in with / wear summer clothes in winter / spend all your allowance at one go / spread gossip / have a crush on a teacher / be loud and argumentative… “ I suppose I’m bitter about this because I attended several all-girls Catholic schools run by nuns. With the benefit of hindsight, I sometimes regret being miss-goody-two-shoes during my formative years. I was always the designated driver of the gang so I never got drunk, or never dared to get into trouble on purpose for fear of the consequences at home.
Then came college when the professors expected this miraculous overnight maturity process, especially from those who were living away from home for the first time. Hello? How does one go from Hotel Mama to wild Student Dorm life and still come out alive just in time for graduation? Four years is barely enough to whip anyone into shape and prepare our dastardly souls for the real world – aka the universe of the employed, regardless of whether this is the corporate, public or non-profit world. At this point we were supposed to be old enough to know better than to squander our time, talent and resources on non-income-generating activities. “You are old enough to know better than to mis-use your credit card / not budget your salary accordingly / not be a team player in the office / not volunteer at the the community centre / not invest in a savings package for your retirement / not buy life insurance / travel / learn a new skill that will get you promoted… “
Next comes marriage and parenthood, when society and all their ancestors demand that we transmogrify into responsible human beings, somewhere between mid-20s and early 30s. By this time we are supposed to know who we are, what we want to achieve the next 20 years, where we want to retire, and freaking know where we want our children to go to college. Heck, I can’t even plan my day sometimes, and I’m supposed to know what I want the next 20 years? At what point am I ideally supposed factor in nervous breakdowns, identity crisis, divorce, menopause, and incontinence? Never, apparently, not to mention that dementia, depression, cancer, and arthritis are not in the Master Plan either.
Blink and life has you entangled in the most vicious talons without any warning or plausible disclaimers, being swept away by deadlines, obligations and mandatory milestones. Before you know it you have reached middle age and are too old for so many things, which is not necessary a bad thing, but then the saying “Old enough to know better” gets tweaked into a more frustrating version which I am even less sure about “Old enough to know better but young enough to do it anyway.” There are two key factors involved in this new version of the saying, and this applies to basically anyone over 50 (stretching out the generosity here)… choice and circumstance.
At 50+, I am supposedly old enough to know better that unemployment is dangerous and can lead to emotional and final financial hazards, but you quit your job anyway because you are sick and tired of the doldrums, mobbing and the emptiness of repetitive cycles and want to pursue your dream. Hmmmm… cue in another annoying saying… no guts, no glory.
I was asked the other day why divorce became a viable option for me back then when I could have done the martyr thing and continued quietly. My response, which I truly value and stand by, we agreed that we were both old enough to recognise that things were no longer working, and still young enough to start over. Perhaps not the easiest decision, and definitely the riskiest of my life, but for all intents and purposes, very liberating.
Yes, I am old enough to know better not to attempt to go back in time and return to a place I embraced with the idealism of youth, yet I chose to do so and applied to job openings in areas I worked in fresh out of college. So what if I’m decades older than most applicants and don’t have the fancy degrees they have, but I have the life and world experience!
I have moved 17 times around the globe, and know better than to consider moving uprooting my life and cats again after all the trouble I went through to establish my roots here in Germany, but I still have a good 15 = 20 years to invest in a new start that will hopefully bring me that elusive peace of mind that I yearn for.
Yes, I am definitely old enough to know better than to agonise over the little things, or waste my efforts on building something that may or may not succeed. But I do so anyway and pour heart and soul into the right words and images even though uncertainly looms heavily above me. Sometimes it is during these small terrifying and seemingly inconsequential moments that a breakthrough comes barrelling into my life. I’m old enough to know better than to get excited over the first positive news in a long time, but hey, a small candle flame can dispel the most oppressive darkness.