Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Still it Lingers...

Childhood is a precious, precious time in our lives.  If we are blessed enough to have capable, nurturing families who protect us a smidge from our culture, we might have 12-13 years of true childhood filled with dressing up for Halloween, believing in the Tooth Fairy, giggling under blanket tents and playing with Play Dough.  12-13 years, then adolescence appears, and it's like a switch is flipped, and suddenly there is a budding awareness of sexuality, a sense of the larger world around them and an understanding of unhappiness that dwells in so many places.  Driving and dating loom and eventually arrive, and soon enough, eighteen comes barreling down with cap and gown.  Real life begins.  This is the lighter side of growing up, the side we see portrayed often in Disney channel fare.

Sometimes in our world, these transitions are sped up, as you see 5 and 6 year olds dressed like twenty somethings and speaking their language.  Pregnant tweens with barely enough to fold into a bra are faced with life altering decisions for themselves and the child they carry.  Boys with nary a scruff of a beard are saying "yes" to meth and Jack, and sinking lower and lower into an abyss from which climbing out will be torturous and damn near impossible.  This is the darker side of growing up, the side we seldom see but hear whispered about.

Then, there is the out-of-sync childhood, the one that was not only interrupted, but sometimes never quite started.  These are the kids whose early years were spent being drug from one foster home to another as they carried their belongings in a plastic Walmart bag.  These are the kids whose lives were spent in institutions hidden from the world, and deprived of all semblence of normal developmental experiences.  These are the teens who stand before you who never played with Playdough until they were 10...or 11...or 12.  Kids from these backgrounds break all molds, they never quite fit, and their outward appearance, deep voices
and curvy hips belie their inward desire to cling to a childhood cut short through no fault of their own.  Imagine having only 2 or 3 years to play with Barbies or GI Joes, to be read bedtime stories or snuggle on the couch with a newly found mom or dad.  Imagine having only 2 or 3 years to dress up for Halloween, ooh and aah over fireworks displays, or play on the jungle gym at the local park.  Straddling a teenage world that everyone wants to shove you into so quickly, and your heart occasionally feels drawn to, while still desiring to finish the childhood that was stolen from you is an incredibly heart wrenching and confusing place to be.  It can be difficult for others to "get it" because they see before them a tall, typical teenager whose life has been anything but typical.

Today was a stark reminder of that straddling our children are forced to do on a daily basis.  Joshua, home since infancy and now a Big Ten Year Old, was ready to bag up some stuffed animals and offer them at our church's rummage sale this weekend.  Out he came to the kitchen, his plastic bag filled with stuffies flung over his shoulder in a mini-manly way.  "Don't worry, Mom.  I still kept some of them, but I have so many now I can't even sleep in my bed, so I thought it was
time to get rid of a few.  But I kept all three stages of my Pooh Bears."  Angela and Olesya came around the corner to see Joshua and his bag of toys and both exclaimed at Josh giving them up.  Angela peered into the bag and hurried to ask, "Hey Joshua, can I have your big Tigger?" and out came Tigger.  Olesya then spied a huge teddy bear he had crammed into the bag and cried out, "Oh, can I have Teddy?  Please?"  Joshie shrugged and said, "Sure, I don't care!" and so down the hall the girls happily went, stuffed companions in hand.

At 14 and 15 years old.  Angela sleeps with one smaller stuffed animal every single night.  Olesya doesn't, but that is because half the time she is sleeping on the floor so she can snuggle with Sunny.

All five kids still love playing at the park, and have a ritual game of "Marco Polo" they play whenever they get near large play equipment.  Sadly, the reputation of so many potty mouthed older kids has preceded them, and you can see the wary looks of moms who bring their young ones to play nearby.  Why would kids this age even want to go to the park?  Because...they never got to, and the few years home has not been enough play time yet.  It is not that they are immature, on the contrary, they are incredibly responsible, hard working, decent young teens who just need a little more childhood.  What a blessing that Matthew, who could easily look upon the girls and Kenny with disgust, joins right in rather than playing Mr. Cool.  Others don't understand, and probably never will.

Kenny, whose developmental delay has him entering tweenhood at 14 years old, rather than the
typical 10 or 11 years old, is just now discovering imaginary play with Legos, not because he loves to build, but he plays out scenarios with the Lego "Guys", putting them in boats he builds and playing Pirate, or making a house where he has the family of his fantasy world spend time together.  At volleyball this year, though it has been his best year in terms of playing, he doesn't really fit.  No longer a little kid, he is playing with the younger group, but neither does he fit with the older kids, who are showing off their physical strength and talking about more mature topics.  Kenny is a man without a country in some ways, straddling and stretching as best he can, and doing it with his characteristic grace and acceptance.

It won't be this way forever, we all know that.  Eventually, corners will be turned, things of childhood will be put to rest, and the business of growing up will take a huge leap forward.  Until then, we continue to deflect the naturally arising questions about dating and driving, knowing full well they are not ready to cross those bridges quite yet.  Dominick and I are their gatekeepers, the guardians of the last vestiges of childhood we can assist them in sneaking in.  We are the ones who more ably see not only the Big Kids before us, but the hidden Little Kids inside.  The ones who still giggle over Sponge Bob, who once in a great while still want to be read to, and who want to play super heroes or wear rainbow nail polish.  We are the ones who will pick up blankies and stuffed animals a little while longer, surely longer than some would ever think is "right".  That's OK, we don't care.  We all only get one chance at this, and making up for long lost years is not an easy task, nor will many understand the need for it so a healthy, whole adult eventually blossoms.  It can all wait a while longer, it'll still be there when the last stuffed animal is put in the rummage sale, or the tiny scrap of blankie is tucked away.

Until then, childhood will linger, and that's exactly the way it should be.


B.A. said...

My 11 yr old is in this stage right now. Most of her friends are older any way because she has a July birthday and our school cutoff is Aug 1. Last year all of a sudden all her friends decided they were too big to play any more, but she wasn't ready and I'm happy about that. Now those girls are all boy crazy, reading teen magazines and watching awful shows on TV and listening to much too old songs on the radio that my daughter has no interest in. Its been a touch two years, seeing her old best friend act like my daughter doesn't exist when she sees her. But I am glad that I'm not proudly posting that my daughter loves watching Pretty Little Liars on tv, which her former friend's mom did.


4texans said...

Love this post Cindy, so true! So glad you are so attuned to your kids and know they still need to be in childhood.

Shannon said...

Very well stated, Cindy!

Mom2agr8kid said...

So well said! My now 19 year old has such a hard time finding his "place" among his peers. He is much more conscientious and hardworking than most yet so much younger in interests. He is still not ready to date, "party" or even hang out with peers most of the time. He cherishes his time at home with family. I wish he weren't an only child though! I worry about his difficulty with peers a lot. You're post helps me relax and keep it in perspective. Thanks!