You know that thing where someone makes you get into a car against your will and the motion lulls you to sleep and you wake up when the car stops to find yourself in an unfamiliar place and you are forced to go inside and are reprimanded for acting distressed by this? No? Well, what about the thing where you mispronounce a word and everyone laughs at you, and then people retell the story of your mistake to new people in front of you and they all laugh? How about the thing where you deeply desire something, and are powerless to get it by yourself, and the person who can give it to says no and belittles you for being sad to not get it? Or what about when you are focused on a meaningful project and you are told you have to stop and do something loathsome to you and when you resist, someone twice your size restrains you and destroys your project? You don’t have that happen to you regularly? Then lucky you, you must be a grown-up!
I love being a grown-up. I appreciate it every day. When I am at the store and buy candy I think “Hey, I’m the grown-up, I get to buy candy whenever I want!” I get to drive a car and choose the radio station and pick what’s for dinner and wear what I want (even when my mom’s cold, my sweater stays off). I get to say what goes on the walls of the house and what my hair looks like. I can look up any information I want anonymously. I am not expected to play for hours with people I’m not into. If I am using something of mine that I like and my neighbor comes over, no one makes me stop using it and let her use it. When I fall, no one tells me I ought to have been more careful, and when I cry, the people who love me trust that I have a good reason to.
Can we please stop telling kids that they don’t know how good they have it? Us grown ups, it seems to me, are much worse at knowing how good we have it. There is a lot that is great about being an adult. The best way to be with kids is to keep this is mind, yet the exact opposite attitude often prevails. Many adults idealize childhood, and therefore resent any children who are dissatisfied with their experiences. They figure that since children’s lives have none of the difficulties of adult life, they should have nothing to complain about. This wrong is twofold; kids do have many of the same difficulties as adults, though often in a different way, and children have difficulties not faced by typical adults.
One of the best compliments I have ever gotten in my life was from a child who told me that I acted as if I really remembered what it is like to be a kid. I don’t think he meant that I remember how to do cat’s cradle (which I do) or that I shared his puerile sense of humor (which I do). I think he meant that I remember that parts of childhood stink.
I’m not recommending pity, or suggesting that childhood is all bad. Of course it’s not all bad or all good. it’s just life. I am, though, pleading for compassion. The best teachers and the best children’s literature are guided by compassion for children and a respect for the validity of each of the child’s emotions and experiences. I strive for this as a teacher and a parent, and it is not easy. (It is much, much easier as a teacher than a parent, an issue deserving of its own essay or two.) Let’s all do our best to keep our own memories clear and honest, and not have adulthood wasted on the middle-aged.