Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Because They Are Human

I sometimes tell the children I teach the truth about adulthood. I say, “The best thing about being a grown-up is that you can eat ice cream any time you want.”

Their parents usually laugh, although I sometimes get a glare, but the kids always nod earnestly because I’m simply confirming what they already know. Most children, most of the time, want to grow up. They know that childhood is a raw deal, a time of life when you are under the control of others, when you’re forever being told that you’re too young, that you must wait, that you must be this tall. They know that grown ups get to do all the driving, stay up as late as they want, and eat when and what they want. By the time they’re, say, middle schoolers, they’ve figured out that the grass isn’t necessarily greener, but preschoolers are all about looking forward to the time when they’ll be “big.”

Adults, on the other hand, tend to want to keep the children small, but since we know that’s impossible, we at least seek to extend their “innocence” as long as possible. We talk of preserving their childhood, of protecting them from the harsh realities, of letting them “just be kids,” even as those kids are doing everything they can to break free of what they rightly see as an artificial world, both separate and unequal to the real world in which adults get to eat ice cream whenever they want.

When I try to imagine myself as an impartial judge, I find myself more often than not, siding with the children. Their case is strong: childhood is a kind of confinement for most of them, one from which they are daily striving in every way to escape. It’s a beautiful cage we adults have built for them, full of the best of intentions. We try to tell them (and ourselves) that these are the “best years of their lives,” but what a crappy set up that is. They and we know that they are going to grow up. Are we trying to convince them that it’s all downhill from here? Is that a good thing to be telling them even if we believe it to be true? And what of the children, who are struggling against their gilded cages, still experiencing pain, disappointment, sadness, and fear, nevertheless, all while being kept from the adult freedoms they crave? What kind of message is that?

The children I know are eager to grow up and I don’t think we do them any favors when we hold them back. They know in their hearts it isn’t fair and it’s a kind of gaslighting to tell them otherwise. Children also want the freedom to eat all the ice cream they want, not because they are young, but because they are human.

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