As kids, we can't see the big picture, and it can take years before we realize that things that happened around us were more than they appeared to be. Whether it be sad, dangerous, or heartwarming, these memories have a new story when we look back on them.
Below, people share memories from their childhood that they didn't realize were much more serious until later on in life. Check them out!
(Content has been edited for clarity.)
Always Ask Permission
“When I was 6 years old, and my brother was 4 years old, we used to walk to our cousin’s house which was two houses down. One evening, we asked our mother if we could go over and she said yes and let us walk over by ourselves.
While we were walking, this car drove up to us and asked if we knew where the nearest McDonald’s was and if we’d like to come with him. I told him we weren’t allowed to eat McDonald’s without our mother’s permission and turned to get her to ask if we were allowed. She was already running outside to get us when the car sped off. I was around 15 when I was reminiscing with my family, and she brought it up. It was a disturbing realization.”
One Bad Apple
“We had this gym teacher in elementary school that would bring a bag of apples to class and would give the girls one if they’d give him a massage.
I was pissed because I loved apples. I thought it was unfair that only the girls got apples, so I told my teacher how the gym teacher would only let the girls massage him for apples and we had to do sports.
I had to go to the principal’s office to tell them my story which was basically ‘This is ridiculous. Everyone should be getting apples, or no one should be getting apples.’ Other students corroborated my story, and soon enough the gym teacher was gone.”
A Heartbreaking Birthday
“In kindergarten, I had a best friend named Daniel, and we played with toy dinosaurs and traded them all the time. January comes around, and I invite him to my birthday party at my house. He never showed up that day, and my mom told me that day he wasn’t going to be able to make it as well as he wouldn’t be able to come to school again.
He died in a car crash on the way to my birthday party.”
You Don’t Realize The Magnitude Of These Things
“When I was about 4 or 5 years old, we received two significant life-changing bits of medical news. Thd first was my baby brother was on the way. The second was that my father was diagnosed with acute lymphoma and had about two weeks to live. When I was little, I had no grasp of the seriousness of cancer. My mom told me my dad was sick, but that was about it. I remember my mom kept insisting that I spent time with him, but I would always get angry when he got too tired to play or kicked me out so he could vomit from the chemo. I remember one night in particular where my school had my first back to school night/carnival. They had all sorts of rides and stuff. My dad had just had extensive surgery and had staples across his neck. I used to joke that he was like Frankenstein. My dad managed to make it through the big presentation the teacher made to the whole class and their parents, but barely. I thought this was boring, but would be worth sitting through because I would get to go on carnival rides afterward. But my dad had to leave. He couldn’t even stand up. I could not understand how my strong father could be so selfish. If he could sit through the boring part why could he not sit through the fun part? To this day, I feel tremendously guilty about how I treated him and the tantrum I threw when my mom was struggling to hold my dad up, and my dad was fighting just to stay conscious.
Fortunately, the doctors were wrong. He made it well past the two weeks and eventually beat cancer five years later. It took years before I understood how seriously sick he was. He had gotten down to 90 pounds, but to me, he was still a super-man.”
Someday, You’ll Understand
“My parents’ divorce. My mother suffers from bipolar disorder, and 20 years ago, the psychiatric community was fragmented in terms of how to properly medicate it. Without proper medication and access to mental health treatment, my mother was not only suicidal and constantly depressed, but she had a bad spending habit. During her bouts of mania, she would go on shopping sprees to the tune of $20,000, buying all kinds of useless things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford (she’d put it all on credit cards). I recall my dad loading bags and bags of stuff into his pickup truck and carting my brother and me to the mall and standing in line for hours returning the stuff.
When my dad finally had enough, he committed my mother and then filed for divorce. For many years I had a great deal of animosity towards my dad because I thought he had abandoned mom when she needed him the most. He did everything in his power to try and help her (not that she didn’t want the help, but nobody he took her to could get her on the right medication).
I was well into my 20s before realizing he made the decision he thought was best for my brother (though, he made a lot of mistakes on his own, too) and me. I guess I came to the understanding that my dad didn’t want to take the chance that my mother’s illness would cause irreparable damage to us.”
No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk
“I never understood that not everyone had people drop bags of groceries on their steps, while the people just rang the bell and drove away. It dawned on me as an adult that we were poor. Then I looked back at old pics and noticed all the signs. Tiny Christmas tree in the background, disappointed faces on Christmas pics, no vacation pictures. I’m going to try to avoid having my kids live that way. The other part of that is I didn’t realize how stressed my mom always was until I got older and realized not everyone’s parents freaked out weekly and slammed doors and peeled off in their car leaving their kids alone and scared.
I remember one incident where my mom, brother and I went to the grocery store and while we were walking to the car my mom dropped the gallon of milk, and it exploded all over the ground. My mom started crying, and my brother said: ‘don’t cry over spilled milk, Mom’ chuckling. I didn’t understand at all. Now looking back it hurts me to think how hard my mom was trying to keep everything together. She passed away at age 51 when I was 18. She had a rough adulthood; I live my life now hoping to become what she wanted me to be.”
It’s Not What You Think!
“I was in Los Angeles at the age of 10 and ended up with sunburn. My dad took me to the restroom where we shared a stall, and he helped me take my t-shirt off so that he could reapply aftersun. This was pretty painful.
I was screaming in a locked stall, saying that it hurt, and I was surprised when a burly guy forced open the door, looking quite annoyed at my dad, who explained what was happening. I grimaced through the pain and agreed as best as possible.
Only years later that I realized that burly guy was being a hero and that the pain he was trying to save me from wasn’t the sunburn pain.”
I Got It From My Mailman
“I’m a redhead, but neither of my parents or my brother is a redhead. So when we were out in public when I was young, a lot of people would ask why I had red hair. One day, when I was probably 6 years old or so, my parents told me to start answering the question with ‘from the mailman,’ which I did regularly because people always seemed to react to it.
It wasn’t until I got to high school that it clicked that the mailman in this scenario had not delivered my red hair in an envelope but that it had come from a much different package.”
The Tooth Fairy Hustle
“I lost one of my teeth when I was 7 years old, and so I was so excited to get money from the tooth fairy. I put the tooth under the pillow, and I was ready to get my prize for losing a tooth. The next morning, I woke up and the tooth was gone but no present.
I told my dad about how I just got scammed from the tooth fairy, and he was like… ‘OHHHH the tooth fairy had to run fast, so she gave me the money to give to you!’ He then pulls out his wallet and gives me the two dollars that the tooth fairy gave him. I was so happy but still wondered why the tooth fairy was in such a rush.”
The Closest Of Calls
“I was about 6 years old in a department store. My mom and I were on the second floor, and I was a couple of steps behind her. I thought I saw her go down the escalator, so I did too to catch up. I couldn’t find her.
I looked around for a while fruitlessly. I was eventually approached by a lady who looked to be about 40 in a brown leather jacket. She asked if I was lost. She said she was a police officer and that my mom was outside. She led me toward the front entrance, as my mom called me from the second floor. I went to my mom.
Unless I misremembered some details, I think I was about to get kidnapped. This fact occurred to me when I was about 20.”
Life Lessons From Pa
“When I was a teenager, my father was the biggest jerk who ever walked the face of the earth.
He never bought me video games for my birthday or Christmas. And I had to put almost all of my money I got from gifts and summer jobs into the infamous ‘College Fund.’ We were the last family on the block to get a touchtone telephone, a computer, a printer, new television and to this day, he STILL has a push mower for the lawn and television without cable channels, and he doesn’t have high-speed internet. While other kids got to sleep in until noon on the weekends, I was always forced to get up at the crack of dawn and work on fixing something.
There was ALWAYS something that needed working on during the weekend. We need to clean the roof, the house needed painting, we needed to trim the trees, we needed to sweep the sidewalk, the kitchen and bathroom needed to have plumbing work done and tiles replaced, and the whole house was always dust, dirty, and in need of cleaning.
I felt poor, overworked, and all my friends got their summers and weekends free to do whatever they wanted.
Life was UNFAIR.
Now I’m an adult, living on my own away from my parents. I’m still not fond of those childhood memories, but I also didn’t have to take out a loan for college. I never worried about paying for college, field trips, gas, food, payments on our house, insurance, or clothes. Money just wasn’t an issue for the essentials; I just missed out on some luxuries as a kid.
I didn’t get to be lazy during the summer or weekends, but in the last few weeks, I’ve been able to replace the garbage disposal, paint the back wall, put in new ground cover in the backyard, fix a broken drawer, and some other things. I learned all those things from my father, and I had enough money to pay for all those repairs without a second thought because he taught me the value of money for years and years.
He seems like less of a jerk to me now than when I was younger.”
The Feel-Good Story
“When I was young, about 6 years old, I idolized my brothers. Jack was the mature father figure with all the brains, Ben was the looks and the cool guy, and Peter was the rebel without a cause.
Jack went to college when I was 4; it was hard to grip as a kid that I was losing my best friend. I didn’t understand why he had to leave home to go to school when he used to come home every day. Whenever he visited though, he always took time to goof around with me. My Dad wasn’t exactly capable of being fatherly, due in large part to drinking, but he was around. Jack was my father figure growing up, and through him, I learned what it meant to be a good dad. He made time for me, even if it was just to screw around and play video games for a whole day. He taught me some essential stuff like how to fish and how to be successful. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’s the one who taught me how to be a man.
My brother Ben was the same to a lesser extent though. He spent a lot of his time playing music, talking to girls, and playing video games. When my brother left, he took up the mantle of the father figure. He’d take me out to the mall, but we always wound up coincidentally meeting up with girls he knew. They’d gush over me. I watched my brother talk with them and take them around and show them a good time. I thought I was part of the gang! Nope. My brother was using me as a chick magnet, and through that, I unknowingly learned to flirt and how to treat a girl.
Ben also taught me how to chill. We’d kick back, listen to some music, giggle like idiots at Ren and Stimpy and play legos for hours. He had a dog whistle on his keychain, I could never get it to make a noise when I blew on it, so I thought little of it. He’d clean that thing religiously after he went on walks and right after he cleaned it was when we would goof around. We always had snacks. He taught me that when cups are dirty, the next best option was to use a bowl instead. I thought he was cool. About a two years ago, out of nowhere, I remembered that dog whistle he had on his keychain. With the wisdom that could only be granted through age and a college degree in Maine, I deduced that that dog whistle was, in fact, a pipe he used to smoke on his walks. He was just high for most of my childhood as it turns out.
Then there’s Peter. I stick to what I said; he was a rebel without a cause. I’m talking dyed blue punk spikes. One time, he got in trouble for drinking cranberry juice in the hallway. The student government kids could drink in the halls at their booths, so why can’t he drink in the hallways? Well, the man came crashing down on him and slapped him with a solid sentence of five-days of hard labor in in-school suspension. Peter dealt with it exactly like how a mature adult wouldn’t. He bought a prison jumpsuit, dyed his hair neon orange, put chains around his wrists and went into the exile like a revolutionary political icon of the proletariat school body. I thought it was hilarious at the time, but when I got to his age, I felt the same way he did. Not everyone was treated the same, and it wasn’t fair. I learned from Peter how not to deal with authority, though, so I joined the Student Senate and fought the man from the inside.
Anyways, a lot of stuff happened when I was a kid that I didn’t understand until later. It never occurred to me that is was all just Jack showing me how to be a man, Ben showing me how to enjoy life, or Peter showing me how to navigate a society I didn’t like. I’m sitting here as a semi-successful person today because of them, and everything I learned just by being around them.”
“My dad was a strict guy with a military background; very type A. I was a very outdoorsy tomboy of a girl. As I kid, I loved to find caterpillars and build them little homes and find the best flowers for them to eat, and my dad loved this hobby of mine. So much so, he would encourage my caterpillar hunting, which I always thought seemed a little weird, but I didn’t question it. There were a few plants out by our barbecue in the back that he specifically asked me to keep an eye on, because, as he told it to me, this was the best place to find them! My kid brain just though my dad and I had found common ground, and that he wanted to help.
About five years later, as my naiveness started to wear off, I realized my dad was a total stoner. My brother, who is 10 years older than me, was chatting with me about my new realization one day, and that’s when it was finally spelled out for me. Those plants that according to my pops were the best place to find my footed-worm friends were just my dad’s plants, and he enlisted my help to keep them bug-free.”
The Age Old Question
“When I was about 7 years old, I was looking for bugs in my backyard when I came across a rare praying mantis. Naturally, I scooped it up and put it in my bug container. Later on, I was looking for more bugs when I found yet another praying mantis, lucky day. I was excited and put it in the container with the other praying mantis. Both of them stood in there dead still and just bobbed around.
I came back a few hours later and was appalled by what I found. The bigger mantis was standing there as still as ever right on top of a praying mantis head and legs. I was spooked, was that mantis a killer, did the smaller mantis fall apart or explode, what happened? It weirded me out for a while.
I’d say about 10 or so years later I found out that the female mantis eats the male after mating. I still don’t know if I’m an accomplice to a murder or a world-class wingman.”
Assumptions Gone Wrong
“Sometimes we would stop at my aunt’s work so that my dad could go in and talk to her. I wasn’t allowed in because I was a kid, and it was an ‘adult’ place. The only other things that ever got the descriptor ‘adult’ were ‘adult films,’ which were not for kids because of all lewd activity. I happily assumed that my aunt worked someplace where all sorts of hanky-panky was happening.
Years later, I was driving by and noticed that it was a retirement home.”
The Ultimate Plot Twist
“When I was a little kid, we had a kid in our class named George who was mentally disabled. We had special needs kids in our school, and we wouldn’t have them in the same class, but they would share recess with the rest of the kids. George dressed funny, he couldn’t speak very well, and he had a hard time understanding what we were telling him.
As you might imagine, this leads to a lot of the kids excluding him or making fun of him. My friends and I decided to be his friend. He was a nice kid, didn’t mean any harm. He was just a bit slow.
Years later, in telling the story to someone else, I remembered my teacher explaining that he was ‘Gree’, which I didn’t understand at the time. Thinking about it, I remembered that just like the special needs kids, the English Second Language kids shared recess with us. George wasn’t mentally disabled. He was just a recent immigrant from Greece who didn’t speak English very well.”