In which we disagree about childhood

Softened by Time’s consummate plush,
How sleek the woe appears
That threatened childhood’s citadel
And undermined the years!


Bisected now by bleaker griefs,
We envy the despair
That devastated childhood’s realm,
So easy to repair.

~Emily dickinson

I’m going to have to take issue with The Myth on this one. Well, not so much take issue as offer an opposing viewpoint. The world is full of adult humans who would no doubt agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed in this poem: when we’re children, we experience griefs and woes and setbacks that seemed enormous at the time, but now, in retrospect, are enviable in their simplicity, their relative mildness, to what we experience as adults.

But here’s the thing–I suspect that those adults who look back on childhood as some sort of golden age are the grownups who’ve forgotten what it was like to be a child. Perhaps childhood’s griefs–at least for the privileged some of us–are not as “serious” as adulthood’s, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important or impactful. The storms that rock our childhoods mattered every bit as much then as adult ones do now, and they probably shaped us more, occurring as they did in our formative years.

How can anyone quantify anyone else’s grief, anyone else’s hardship? I frequently hear people–okay, women, it’s almost always women–comparing their griefs and losses to other people’s and concluding that other people have it worse, that they themselves should shut up and just be grateful. But there’s no yardstick for grief. We feel it how we feel it. And when we are children, we feel it keenly. It molds us, carves us, lathes us into what we will become. Childhood’s griefs are no less important that those of adulthood, no less “serious” just because they may appear lesser in magnitude to things that seem important to adults.

Adults too often have forgotten what’s truly important. It’s as if a veil settles over our eyes, clouding our vision of the world. We begin to accept that it’s the things of adulthood that matter, forgetting that entire world of childhood, the world that makes us. Childhood’s griefs are not necessarily “easier to repair”–I’d argue that they’re harder. There is no going back.

So, for all the grownups out there who remember what it was like to be a child, who consciously and eternally hold within their adult shells the children they were (and still are), I see you. Your childish griefs matter. They were real, and they are real. Don’t forget what it was to be a child. The children who have not yet hardened into adults need you to remember.

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