Monday, September 29, 2014

A lost Las Vegas of the mind

I'm at an event when suddenly the red punch I'm drinking transports me back to childhood: that cloying sweetness, that familiar medicinal aftertaste--where have I tasted that peculiar combination before?

And then I remember: it tastes like children's cough syrup. Yuck.

One of my students yesterday said "I miss being a kid," but I don't. Sure, it would be nice to never have to worry about paying the mortgage, filing taxes, or changing the oil in my car, but there are elements of childhood I would never want to repeat:

Alphabetization requires that the child whose name starts with Z is always called on first or last, always in the front or the back of the line, never able to hunker down amidst the miscellaneous middle.
Bullying wasn't invented in the Internet age, and it's not any more pleasant face-to-face, especially when you can't just turn it off.

Cavities, eight at one time, filled by a scary man wielding power tools that sound like chainsaws.
Dentists. See above.

Escape? None. Sit in the chair and let the nice man in the white coat stick that chainsaw into your mouth.

Family fights last loud and long into the night.

Gum, terror of: "When you chew gum, you look just like a cow!"

Hair, tangles of: "How can I get these rat-nests out if you won't sit still?!"

Ice cream that my brother gets to eat after he has his tonsils removed. I'd rather have ice cream than tonsils, but I'm stuck with tonsils.

Jump-rope games are suddenly all the rage that one year, which would be a lot of fun if the mean girls would let me play. 

Kitty, my first pet, doesn't travel well and disappears while we're on a trip, sadly becoming the first of many ex-pets.

Lose one shoe one time many decades ago and never again since then, but certain members of my family still won't let me forget that I once lost a shoe and insist on thinking of me as a person who's always losing things, which is ridiculous.

Monsters live under the bed, in the closet, and down in the cellar, but I'm lying in bed paralyzed with fright because this strange shadow on the wall just might be a spider.

Nicknames stick like glue, the most humiliating one dropping away only when my family moves out of state.

Omnipresent, obnoxious, abhorrent boys.

Punched in the stomach by a fourth-grade classmate angry because I won the spelling bee.

Quiet in the library! Even when your classmate punches you in the stomach! Shhhhh!

Really! I mean quiet!

Stomach-aches after eating all that Halloween candy.

Thanksgiving with the cousins that time when I break out in chicken pox and endure tortures on the long ride home.

Untold miseries of fear when I know I know the answer but I can't raise my hand or open my mouth in class without turning beet-red and inspiring the bullies to whisper that horrible humiliating nickname.

Vegetables must be eaten even when they are overcooked, mushy, insipid.

Witless, scared, while walking home from a friend's house in the dark after telling ghost stories, running quickly past the vacant lot in case some ghoul is lurking there awaiting a little girl to gobble up.

Xenophobia: "Here come the Polacks in the Polack car!"

Yellow dress, the one I love until the day I start my period at school without being prepared.

Z-nophobia: Why do names starting with Z fluster people to the point that they stuff all kinds of superfluous letters into a perfectly normal name? It's not exactly Zczjrsnkjy!

Other results may differ, but I prefer to treat my childhood sort of like Las Vegas: what happens in childhood stays in childhood. I fear, though, that one of these days I'll enter my second childhood and it will all come washing back up onto the shore of the present.

If so, I'll keep my eyes open for that one lost shoe.


Bardiac said...

Some of these sound familiar, all too familiar, but others, I'm glad to say, weren't my experience.

Nonetheless, just being an adult seems to give me many degrees of freedom: from worrying about what everyone thinks, being bossed around, and having to do stuff that adults insist is vitally important but which I've long ago learned isn't important.

Being kind is important. Being respectful and decent and caring. Those are important.

Wearing this or that dress, not important. And so on.

I hope that as an adult, you experience a lot more kindness, and share it, too.

Contingent Cassandra said...

I think I, too, had a mostly-happier childhood (though also one with at least one event that would be recognized as truly awful -- a parent's death -- and some other, different, less-difficult ones), but I have no desire to go back. It's the sense of helplessness/powerlessness that is hardest, I think; for all that I'm responsible for the mortgage, taxes, et al., I'm also in a position to change many things that truly distress me (especially the sort of day-to-day repeated ones that can really wear on a person, and that children often have to endure without being able to change).

I would have felt the same way when I was in college (I loved the freedom of college, and of getting my drivers' license at 16, even though I hadn't felt terribly constrained before that).

I also suspect I might feel differently if I were an adult with fewer options (though I sometimes feel constrained, I actually have quite a few).

Bev said...

Freedom, kindness, power, and the freedom to use the power of adulthood to associate with kind people--this is what is so great about growing up.