It’s assumed in our culture: children are innocent and pure. You see it in every advertisement for Oreos, every moral debate about media corrupting youth, Red Cross fundraisers, family movies where the adult learns a lesson about being a good parent… it’s in the creed of our society.
But really now. Don’t you remember back to when you were a kid? I can’t even begin to tell you how many assholes I remember from the playground (many of whom grew up to be likable and decent human beings, by the way). No, when I look back on my own childhood, I see swing sets upon swing sets of inconsiderate twerps, and I include myself in that. I remember once in elementary school: one of my friends threw a rock at another friend’s head. Why? I don’t know. The pure exhilarating joy of it? Back then, causing head trauma was all the rage, I suppose.
Kids do things to each other that most adults wouldn’t even dream of (actually, this is a lie – adults would frequently dream of doing these things). The only reason the evildoings of adults seem worse than the evildoings of children is because, as adults, we’re physically capable of doing more damage. Imagine if all the children in the world were as strong and capable as adults. The destruction would be unfathomable! Society would cease to exist!
Childhood Chaos v. Adulthood Civility: a comparison
|- throw rocks at people for fun||- throw rocks at people in protest|
|- name call for fun||- name call for political gain|
|- hit people for fun||- hit people to take their wallets|
|- cry when hurt||- cry when watching Toy Story 3, Jurassic Bark|
|- throw tantrums to get new toy||- throw tantrums to get husband to do dishes, housework, remember anniversary|
|- knock merchandise off shelves||- knock chairs over in drunken bar fight|
|- outwardly laugh at fart jokes||- inwardly laugh at fart jokes|
|- refuse to eat vegetables||- refuse to eat vegetables|
Pardon me, maybe I’m misunderstanding innocence. Perhaps innocence refers to the carefree joys of childhood rather than the morality of it. You know, that idyllic age when we could stay home from school and watch movies when we were sick, and we didn’t have to worry about finding a job or a purpose.
But no, even then, I don’t really look back on my childhood fondly. Don’t get me wrong – I was raised by amazing parents and siblings, and I was given every opportunity in the world to enjoy my youth. But when it comes down to it, this is what I remember –
Are my memories delusional? Surely I’m not being fair. There were great times – for instance, I remember fondly my mom taking me out to Carl’s Jr on a regular basis after preschool. It was our thing, and I enjoyed it. But back then, they were just times as they were. They didn’t become great until I got older and realized I won’t often have the opportunity to eat at Carl’s with Mom anymore. But as it is, most of my childhood activities about which my initial reaction is nostalgia were actually quite miserable at the time. Backyard games always resulted in fighting or getting hurt. Board games always resulted in fighting or getting hurt. And with three older siblings around, I always felt helpless and too young to do anything.
But maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe I’m being too harsh on our misremembering of childhood. After all, isn’t our longing for the innocence of our youths telling enough for the brightness of our futures? Is not the fact that we see childhood as a joyous ideal more important than the reality of whether it actually was? What does it say about ourselves as adults when we nostalgically look back and dream of the days of running barefoot across lawns playing tag? Does this nostalgic fondness show that, somewhere on the inside, we as adults are truly innocent?
Think about how much value we place on the joys of childhood. The (arguably) greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane, is about longing for a lost childhood. Every Christmas movie evokes a desire to return back to the days of our youth. We want it, and we want it badly.
And yet, remember how all you wanted to do as a kid was grow up? You wanted to ride the big-kid rides. You wanted to get good at sports. You played House, fantasizing that you were a married homemaker with kids. Now we have that. We can ride the rides. We can play sports. We are homemakers. And yet, we’re dissatisfied and desire the pure, carefree innocence of a childhood we never actually experienced.
I think I know what separates children from adults now. Children look fondly toward the future. Adults look fondly at the past. They want to grow up. We want to go back. Well, my friends, we can go back. Let’s create that innocent childhood we’ve always wanted but never actually had. Nothing is stopping you from playing barefoot on the lawn. You may think your colleagues will judge you when you’re swinging on the playground swing in your work suit laughing about nothing in particular, but they’re all secretly jealous. Just watch out for looking like a creeper.