Monday, August 31, 2020

When we were kids

I'm often intrigued by what seems to be a disconnect between the ways I felt and saw things as a kid and how unperturbed by life kids seem now. I'll drive by grade schools and see kids running around the pavement or the fields, shrieking or playing it cool, and wonder if they're burdened by the same strange blend of fear, excitement, and existential dread that I was at their age. Of course, I didn't know the word existential at age 11, but I sure felt it—the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach when I woke, knowing that blacktop politics and recess dramas were looming, the impossible knowledge that I am, inescapably, a social creature and now must make some sense of the faces and bodies on the teachers and kids in the hallways. I had plenty of fun in grade school, but experienced plenty of mental agony and intense unhappiness as well, as all children do, yet it's hard to see this in the faces and bodies of kids I see. Can I not look past the clich├ęd innocence of kids in a park? Or am I projecting a misery on them that doesn't exist? (In other words, is this more about me than it is about...that old problem.) Naturally, kids deal with all kinds of difficulties, virtually and otherwise, that I didn't have to, their families and tenuous friendships collapsing into strife and melodrama at the slightest look, or jeer, or social miscue. Perhaps as adults we feel that what we carried inside as kids was readable to others—a kind of emotional acne—and so we feel in retrospect that we wore our adolescent problems for all to see, bullies and best friends alike. Not so. Only when I pass a kid walking home after getting off the bus, trembling under the weight of an oversized book bag, or the occasional straggler skirting the edge of a playground do I sense the nameless turmoil that they may be wrestling with. An early lesson in the space between our inner lives and the faces we present everyday.

Illustration via Envisioning the American Dream

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