I am not sure where I got the idea that I was lousy at being a kid, but it is something that I have known for a long time. I realize that is a pretty negative thing to say, but hunches about one’s personality are rarely rooted in kindness or even reality. Perhaps it was when, at about ten, a friend told me that I was in too much of a rush to grow up. I remember feeling the need to abandon dolls for my first lip gloss and silly teen magazines and being shocked at her resistance to such “progress.”
By college, when friends were writing these insightful seeming essays about playground experiences that had changed the course of their lives, I realized how distanced I felt from the early years of my life. Really, who wanted to hear about what I did in the waiting room before I got through the door of full-fledged personhood? As soon as I could I spent a great deal of the time reading novels full of what might be called “mature themes” in a desperate bid to figure out the mysteries of adulthood and, in turn, life in general.
Now, I may lapse into great bouts of silliness and I am known to lose my mastery of complete sentences in the presence of truly adorable puppies, but I don’t tend to have the stomach for cartoons and I think I have the sense to avoid trying to write for the trendy new audience hungry for adolescent fiction. These days I have a bit more respect for the child I once was; in college I was too focused on the future to sift through elementary school experiences for gems of the past. But still, my own ancient history never seems to have the resonance of more recent events.
The lingering connection to my child self became powerfully apparent this weekend, however. A friend’s exuberant canine friend was doing a tour of the house. I hoped it would calm her down if she explored the place a little so the humans could drink some wine unaccompanied by whining (I was confident that the cats were clever enough to hide well out of sniffing range). We chatted for a while, but then my friend showed she knows her dog well enough to get a little concerned when she is quiet for any length of time…
She reached the happy hound in time to save my teddy bear’s face, but not his nose.
Maybe it was the lateness of the hour, or maybe it was that extra glass of wine, but before I knew it, my tears were falling on a fuzzy face already damp with doggy drool. I never would have thought myself capable of such a visceral reaction over a twenty year old bit of plushness, but it was as if the direct line to my girlhood had been tampered with. Of course, I am a woman who brought a teddy bear to her marriage bed, so I cannot claim such sophistication that this eruption of sentimentality was a complete surprise. At the same time, what I thought was a familiar thing to hold while I fell asleep was actually a palpable link to the version of me that existed before all of the books and theories marked my sense of who I am.
This incident brought to mind a half remembered adage about coming to God like a child. I guess I was thinking of that verse that seems to be from Matthew: “Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom.” I have seen this idea surface in so many modern commentaries, mainly to advocate the idea of stripping away the ego and recovering that sense of wonder and trust so that you can be aware of the mysteries of the Divine.
Because I bought into the cult of maturity at such a young age, I think I was really convinced that the way to succeed in life was through amassing more knowledge and shrugging off the mantle of innocence. A missing plastic nose made me realize that I may not be so cerebral and worldly after all. Reflecting on this experience, I realize maybe I might not want to be. My child-self may not be the indistinct shadow I once thought necessary. I think I may finally be getting old enough to embrace her again.