Sometimes you don't know you've had it wrong until you've had it right.
Take flan, for example. The creamy custard covered in syrup used to make its way into my school lunchboxes. The little plastic cups were sold in the grocery next to snack-sized puddings and Jell-O. I loved peeling back the foil, lapping the custard off my plastic spoon and squeezing the dessert through my teeth — which was not hard to do because I was in desperate need of braces. This, I thought to my 8-year-old self, is living. This is culture.
This is crap, I realized years later when I had my first flan that didn't come in a pack of four with a coupon for 50 cents off my next purchase. I had lived my whole 22 years of life thinking I knew what delectable dessert heaven tasted like. I was a fool! But, I ask you, how could I have known? How could I have known it was wrong when I had yet to have it right?
Yeah, yeah, OK, having to peel back the foil lid should've been an indicator that perhaps there were better options out there. But isn't that always the way of it?
We ignore the signs that say something better and more promising is possible because we have yet to experience it firsthand. Like how jeans with buttons seem great until you experience your first elastic waistband. Then, like magic, the clouds part, and angels sing. But how would you have known? You had never experienced anything better than button-down jeans. Like gummy bears before you tried the substantially better sour gummy bears. The carousel before your first roller coaster. Or that first boyfriend who would high-five himself every time he unhooked your bra. Or the pet goldfish before you got a dog. Or how in my teen years, I followed around the band Good Charlotte because apparently, I had yet to hear any other music. Ever.
In our ignorance, we think these things are good, but we are wrong — so very wrong.
I just had another one of these experiences, in the form of an epidural.
My son is now 3 years old. When I was in labor with him, I experienced the worst pain I've ever had in my life. I used every trick I knew, from breathing techniques to visualization meditation to squeezing the color out of my husband's hand, but ultimately, I was still left thrashing on the bed, writhing in pain. And I'd had an epidural.
Less than an hour before it was time to push, the nurses noticed I had somehow pulled the epidural drip out of my back and therefore was not receiving the medicine. They hooked me back up, and when it came time to push, though I was still able to move my legs and use my muscles to push off the stirrups, I was drugged enough for the pain to be manageable. For three years, I thought I'd had the quintessential epidural experience. Sure, there was a little hiccup, but when push came to no-seriously-it's-time-to-push, I had the same reduced pain every other laboring woman with a huge needle in her back has had.
For three years, I spread the word like gospel of the beautiful and momentarily life-altering effect of the epidural. Get the drug, I would tell new moms-to-be as if I knew what I was talking about.
How could I know I had it wrong when I had yet to have it right?
My husband and I both knew at the exact same moment that my very recent labor and delivery would be different from the first when I looked at him, glassy-eyed and smiling, and said, "I feel like a mermaid!"
That is to say, I felt nothing below my chest. I had no idea my legs had fallen off the bed until gravity began pulling the rest of my body down with them. When a doctor bent my knee up to my chest, I looked over expecting someone to be in bed with me before realizing the leg was mine. And when it came time, my daughter popped on out after three pushes to the rhythm of "If You're Happy and You Know It." It was a beautiful experience.
I thought the epidural I'd had the first time was good, but turns out it was little more than snack-sized flan in a plastic cup.
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