The Wrong Idea

Have you ever realized you’ve had the wrong idea—be it about a person or a situation? I have. Especially as I was growing up, I kept learning that some of the logic I’d used to figure out the surrounding world was faulty. I was recently reminded of this when one of my Facebook friends shared the following exchange she’d had with her young daughter.

Child: “Mom, where was I when you were living with Grandma?”

Mother: “Well, you weren’t born yet.”

Child: (Frustration building) “No, Mom, when you were a little girl living with Grandma, where was I?”

Mother: “You were in my belly.”

Child: “No, your belly wasn’t big.”

Mother: “You’re right. Every little girl is born with tiny little eggs in her belly. When she gets married and wants to have a child, one of those eggs grows into a baby.”

Child: “Oh! I get it!! First I was an egg, then a chicken, then a baby!”

I couldn’t help but be amused by the child’s logic. She was trying to understand something a bit beyond her mental capacity. She was attempting to reconcile new information with what she already knew. Sure, she had the wrong idea, but who could blame her? Besides, it’s incredibly cute.

Seeing that story reminded me of some of the times I’ve had the wrong idea about things. I blame television (cartoons mostly) for many of them.

My contact with cartoons as a child was inconsistent and often surreptitious. I primarily saw them on play dates or while visiting family members. In my own home, I was only permitted to watch PBS—and I wasn’t allowed to watch television at all on school nights.

However, despite my moderate exposure to this form of entertainment, it left quite a marked impression on me. Anxiety, mostly. The majority of those fears have proven to be futile, but at the time, I took them very seriously.

As a child, I was extremely afraid of, and felt it very important to know how to escape, quicksand. That can’t be blamed entirely on cartoons, but it seemed that a lot of characters in stories and shows met their untimely end walking innocently through a jungle and then happening into quicksand. I didn’t stop to consider the high unlikelihood of encountering quicksand in the concrete jungle of my urban environment, but I was afraid of it nonetheless.

In no particular order, other things I feared to an unrealistic extent were scorpions, poisonous snakes, and falling anvils. Cartoons definitely undermined my confidence in the cranes I occasionally saw hoisting pianos and other large furniture items up and through open windows.

Eventually my childhood logic was overtaken by mature understanding, but until then, there were matters I completely misunderstood. Some of the things I had the wrong idea about were sexual.

Wet dreams: My mother told me that wet dreams were when you peed the bed while you were sleeping. In hindsight, I cringe when I consider how many times I could have claimed to have had a wet dream during my childhood. I can only hope that being a bed-wetter was so sufficiently embarrassing, that I didn’t discuss it and therefore had no cause to use the incorrect moniker.

Rape: When I was very young, I was aware of a news story about a rape victim. During the attack, her face had been slashed—cut with a broken bottle, I think. So for the longest time, and I can’t remember how or when I had the aha moment that changed my mind, I used to think that being raped meant having your face slashed, and I wasn’t quite sure why it only happened to women.

There were other things I had the wrong idea about. I thought “eavesdrop” was “ease drop” and “significant” was “signifigant.” (That second one survived until I was in high school, believe or not.) I also had a difficult time with the name “John.” At least until age ten, I had the nagging suspicion that “Jhon” might be the correct spelling. I had no issue with “Wednesday” or “Oedipal,” but to this day I’m still not completely confident about “rhythm.”

Most frightening of all was my first lunar eclipse. I couldn’t understand why no one was panicking. Everyone explained how the earth’s shadow would cover the moon, rendering it dark. No one took the time to clarify that this effect would not be permanent.

Children constantly have to change their understanding of the world to make room for a flood of new information. As an adult, it can be difficult to adjust. As a child, I was certain I knew whom to trust. Now, I’m more stubborn, and it’s less clear who makes a reliable source.

New knowledge often leads to change. In the past year or two alone, I’ve had to revisit and revise or reinforce my views on racism, feminism, sexuality, and faith.

I sincerely hope I continue to learn as I continue to age. I don’t want to loose my ability to recognize when I have the wrong idea about things. I don’t ever want to be so stuck in the quicksand of what I think or feel that I can’t move myself to see what’s delusion and what’s real.

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