Friday, March 7, 2014

The simplicity of childhood - NOT!!

I occasionally see an advertisement (such as a recent one for Weight Watchers) or a post on social media that expresses the idea that childhood is a "simpler" time, that children are carefree and joyous.  Children are not in control of their own world, big people control it; children lack the skills and the resources to do many things that they wish to do.  I'm not saying that children are never carefree or joyous, but even the best loved, well cared for child experiences enormous amounts of frustration and anxiety. I was reminded of this truth by the Facebook post of a friend - a young mother with three children, the youngest of whom, Story, is about three years old. Here's what she posted about Story today:
Reasons Story has cried today include but are not limited to:She ran out of chocolate soy milk; Seth let her play with a salamander and let it go; Seth found her another salamander and she couldn't bring it inside; The salamander didn't wait on her on a rock while she went potty; She was cold; She couldn't find her Lotso Bear; The cat wouldn't let her choke it;  She ate one hot dog and the other one wasn't magically cooked before she got done; She ate the other hot dog and it was the last hot dog; She cried so hard for another hot dog she remembered she wanted chocolate soy milk; She cried so hard for soy milk she peed herself; She cried because her pants were wet.
Not all children react so emotionally to the world, but all children experience fear, worry, anxiety and frustration on occasion. It has become common place to use children's fears - whether of the monster under the bed or in the closet - as the basis for humor, but to the child those fears are very real and sometimes immobilizing. 

Sometimes those fears are of something quite real, if ultimately unlikely.  I spent most of my childhood fearful and worried about nuclear war. I lay awake each night for long periods of time listening to every plane that flew over (and since we lived under the approach to San Francisco International Airport there were a LOT of planes) wondering if each one was the one that would drop the bombs.  Every time I went to the public library I gathered pamphlets about how to make fallout shelters.  I would devote hours to trying to figure out how to build a shelter in our garage.  I did not know then that all such advice for shelters was absurd and nonsensical. I took it seriously and made many careful plans about how my family might be saved from obliteration.