When I was about seven or eight, I saw something on TV that made me mad. I don't remember what it was, but it had something to do with adults' attitudes toward kids, and I vowed right then that when I grew up I would never ever forget what it's like to be a kid. So far I've kept that vow, and it's served me well.
I realized recently that it would serve me equally well to make the same promise about every stage of life. I need to remember, too, what it was like to be a teenager: to have a mature mind and body yet be seen as a child, to have to depend on others to take you places and buy you stuff, to be changing so fast you barely recognize yourself from year to year, to be treated as someone who is likely to start trouble at any moment even if your reputation is spotless. (That last one is particularly handy for white folks to remember; while we usually don't have to deal with that prejudice past age 20, many others are not so lucky.)
I'm also realizing now that it's going to be vital, as I get older, to remember how it is to be a young adult. I'm sure when I have kids and a mortgage it will be easy to romanticize these years as a free, halcyon time with no responsibilities. It'll be easy to forget all the anxiety over an uncertain future, the struggle to scrape up any money at all, the pressures from every angle to get a job NOW and get married NOW and have kids NOW. Once I'm settled into whatever career I choose, it'll be easy to be nostalgic for "no responsibilities", and forget the stress of having no health insurance and the fear that maybe I'm not good at anything after all. When it feels like nothing I like is popular anymore, it'll be easy to talk down to people 20 years my junior and assume they're too ignorant and self-centered to have heard of anything that happened before they were born. When I start to get wrinkles, it'll be easy to dismiss the concerns of young, smooth-skinned women who fear that they're not pretty enough to find love. When I turn 50, it'll be easy to roll my eyes at people who are panicking because they've just turned 25 or 30 and are suddenly expected to Grow Up and Take Things Seriously. And when my kids are young adults, it'll be easy to see everyone their age as "just kids", instead of as people who have waited 20 years to be seen as adults and deserve to be treated as such.
Right now I'm vowing - with all of you as witnesses - not to forget any of this. Other people should consider promising not to forget how it feels to be in the stage of life they're in now, and the ones before if you haven't forgotten those already.
And those of you who are older and have well-established lives, particularly those with children: Please try to take off the rose-colored nostalgia glasses, at least this once, and look at your youth from all sides. Sure being young is fun, and all that fun is worth remembering. But look past the fast cars and freedom for a minute. Remember the uncertainty and the pressure and the prejudices you faced. Remember the frustrations of living in a society that was run by your parents' generation, not your peers. Realize that much of the onus is on you to be mature and understand people who are younger than you, because you've been their age before and they haven't been yours. You have the advantage of experience and wisdom, a gift that younger people will happily accept if and only if we feel that you're trying to understand us and see our side of things. The rewards are mutually great if you do.