today i was reminded of perhaps the most important lesson in life: we will never, ever know what someone else is going through, or the effect it has on their interactions with others.
when i was 18 and in my first year of college, i babysat for a 5-year-old with considerably older parents. the child was spoiled and irate, and i could not manage her. the last time i saw this family was a particularly brutal day. i was meant to take her to go swimming, but there was confusion as to where they were picking me up. when her father arrived at my dorm, he was irritated and displeased, and the child was crabby. it was a hot day and there was a ridiculous amount of traffic. the daughter became angry when i sat in the front seat of the car (i quickly moved to the back to sit with her instead) and from there she was off. she was screaming at me when we arrived at the pool, where her father promptly drove away. she wouldn’t speak to me or eat, and i was horrified. i cried in the lobby trying to get advice from my own family, but no one could help. we took a $40 cab ride back to her house where her neighbor came over and helped me, after which i slumped on the couch and messed up the tv. when her parents arrived home, the house was dark and i was done with them.
today, i ran into the mother. she remembered me immediately, as well as the events of that day. honestly i was horrified, feebly reminding her of how young i was, but she remembered the day differently: she apologized for never getting back in touch with me and the stress of that day, informing me that that was the day her husband was diagnosed with cancer. he passed away a year later. she told me how much she liked me and wished me well before taking her seat by the pool.
this encounter has really shaken me. i remember that day so clearly, and have thought of it often over the years. i could never understand these people as parents, how they didn’t control their child and left me to do a 5-year old’s bidding. i cringe every time i think of that day, starting with me meeting them at the wrong place and ending with me breaking their tv (it got stuck on real housewives of somewhere at a very loud volume, naturally). i realize now how much was going on for them on that day, and even now, 5 years later.
i apologize for thinking so ill of them and for not being aware of their struggle. i am reminded that we never know what is going on with others, that there is so much we will never know of, even in the people we are closest to. i am reminded of how lucky i am and even how much i learned from this family, in our brief and chaotic time together. i am saddened by this news and saddened by my behavior. and honestly, i just feel a little lost for words.