When I was a kid, I hated being the youngest. I always had to wait another year, another grade, a little longer. Pierced ears, staying home alone, R movies, adult discussions. No phrase rubbed it in more than “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
If I had kept tabs on all the promises people were supposed to tell me when I got older, at some point in my life I was in for a windfall. The question was, when exactly was “older”? I waited and no one ever sat me down and revealed to me all the answers I had been waiting for. Why couldn’t I read Forever by Judy Blume? Her other books were OK. What did two numbers have to do with sex? Why did I have to leave the room during “Romancing the Stone”? Boy, being a kid just really stunk sometimes.
I remember my sister and her friend watching “Vacation” in another room one night. I was too young to see it. I could hear them laughing—howling. Then they kept talking about it. “Hey, remember the part about the aunt?” And they would hold their stomachs and laugh and gasp for air.
“What?! What?!” I’d say. “What about the aunt?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
It was the quickest way to shut me up and send me stomping to my room in a huff, laughter burning my ears.
And it wasn’t just my sister. Everyone did it. When you’re the baby in the family, no one sees your age. Aunts, grandparents, older cousins—no one wants you to grow up. They want you to stay young forever. Forget that you could actually know something.
I remember my dad talking to his buddies one night and he belted out a string of German from his time living there. I had never heard him speak so much German and asked what it meant.
“It means ‘none of your business,’” he said to an audience of laughter. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
But those answers never came. I had to watch “Vacation” myself one day. I had to read Forever in college one break to understand the hubbub when my mom found out my sister read it. And I could never remember the German phrase. It was all a lot of disappointment.
I did luck out once though. One time not asking anything at all helped a lot of things click into place. I fear I never would have learned the birds and the bees if I hadn’t pretended to be asleep at one of my sister’s sleepovers. When conversation got interesting, someone whispered, “What about Karen?”
“Oh, she’s asleep.”
I’ve never been so still for so long in my entire life. But I got an earful that night. I got the entire scoop via whispering tweens in our neighbor’s den.
As an adult, a parent, I think that still rings true. Sometimes the more you ask, the less you know, the more someone else holds back. Sometimes it’s best to let the answers come to you.
If I’m quiet enough, if I listen, I find that they do.
7 responses to “I’ll Tell You When You’re Older”
Yeah! I’m always saying that to my oldest boy as he craves information beyond his years!! His favorite phrase is …. Why isn’t it appropriate!!… He craves to be ‘in the loop’ …. Always asking …. My daughter on the other hand is a P.I for info …. Just knowing where to stand and listen at the right times!!
Yes, one of my kids does that too. You forget they are there! Sneaky. It’s a clever tactic though.
Yep, being the youngest can suck. I’m the youngest of 4, but my sister still looks at me as a baby and doesn’t want me to know things, or thinks I shouldn’t be told things. I’m 59!!!!!
But as her family secrets revolve around her kids and their offspring, they all have no time for me so I couldn’t care less anyway. 🙂
I know a few grown folks whose parents treat them that way too. I agree, 59 is definitely old enough!
I can definitely relate to this story on more than one occasion. There were only two of us, me being the youngest, and yet. I never got away with ANYTHING like my older brother did. His tricks didn’t work for me.
Thank You for sharing this! It was a good read! 🙂
Thanks. The tricky part for me is to not say it to my youngest. 😉
Ha! A great way to learn about things. My daughter is having issues with the not knowing of things, and not yet being old enough to get the WHOLE picture (i.e. the ‘talk’). She harumphs and stomps off regularly. Somehow, I feel that if she is more patient, she’ll get the goods from her older brother somehow too. Great post, Karen. I hope you having an amazing summer!