When I was going through much self-revelation years ago (with the help of a talented therapist), I was encouraged to think about my childhood in a more analytical way. Interestingly, I had never spent a lot of time dwelling on any particular childhood memory. It was really hard at first; I couldn’t remember much of anything. But the more I thought about it, the more things would come back to me.
I’d remember roller skating in those barbaric metal skates that strapped to your sneakers, careening at a frightening speed down the bumpy sidewalk hill that skimmed the edge of the courtyards on Pick Avenue. I vividly remembered the exhilaration I’d felt, the excitement at the risk involved, and the trust I somehow had in myself not to fall. I can close my eyes and feel it even now. I can feel my knobby kid-knees absorbing the bumps, the cracks in the sidewalk, as I continue to gain speed. Would I do that again now? No way. What is the difference, I wonder? Well for one thing I haven’t skated in years. But more than that, I don’t trust my body anymore, I don’t trust my balance. Nor do I have the nerve to let the wind blow through my hair as I squint into the sunshine, bending my knees slightly as I fly down a hill. I am afraid. Hmm, I thought as an adult, interesting.
The roller-skating memory led me to a memory of a parade the neighborhood kids tried to put on, in the same neighborhood during the same time period. The details in my mind are sketchy, but it involved a wagon and the same bumpy sidewalk. Maybe a tape recorder playing tinny Olivia Newton John tunes. Costumes. But mostly, the excitement of planning it. Gathering the kids together, figuring out who would do what, alerting the adults to watch…but oddly, I don’t remember the outcome. The actual parade is not part of my memory. It seems it didn’t turn out as cool as we had anticipated, but what ever does? As an adult, I am curious about that excitement I felt in planning to entertain. Being part of a group, even being a leader. Wanting to impress the adults. Wanting to perform. Nowadays, I hyperventilate at the thought of giving a presentation – what happened to that exhibitionist child prancing about in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas?
When I was a girl I climbed trees. I didn’t mind getting bumped and scraped, I wasn’t afraid of heights; in fact, I thrived on the dizziness the higher I got. I can remember being high, high up in the air, clinging to a scratchy branch, heart pounding, grinning down at my sister triumphantly. I gave no thought to the scary bugs that live in trees (although I may have been mildly on the lookout for spiders [shudder]); there was no worry of falling, not really. But now, I get woozy at any height. I can’t look over my own balcony without feeling an alarming sense of vertigo. Where did my fearlessness go?
It goes on and on like this. It baffles me that these images and feelings are still so clear in my head, but I can’t fathom being comfortable again with the risk, the exhilaration, the giddy fear, the butterflies in my stomach.
What I’ve been thinking about is, when and why do we lose that childhood sense of self? If I really think about it, I can say that it was 7th grade when I started thinking of myself as inferior to other “cooler” people. Not that I didn’t have angst in 6th grade, but we moved from Kansas to Texas between 6th and 7th, and there was quite a difference between 12-year-olds in the two states. I remember how shocked I was that girls my age in Texas carried purses and wore makeup. I was sort of thrown into the shark-infested waters of middle school with no transitional period — I didn’t have the slightest idea of the adolescent brutality I was in for. I had never heard of designer jeans until it was too late and I didn’t have any. I still had goober glasses. Etc. I don’t think I climbed trees anymore after we moved to Texas. I became more concerned with my feathered bangs and the (wrong) emblem on my shirt. I started comparing myself to others and coming up short.
I really miss the carefree days I had as a child. I miss trusting myself, knowing my body won’t fail me, feeling confident enough to actually seek out attention. I miss climbing high into the green branches and peering down at everyone else, as if I have a secret that no one else shares. I miss feeling that not only am I good enough, but in fact I’m pretty darn great.