On Childhood

“All of us have moments in our childhood where we come alive for the first time. And we go back to those moments and think, This is when I became myself.”
–Rita Dove

I recently came across this quote, and it’s haunted me for the last few weeks. I began to wonder: What were my moments?

I know that I had them. I immediately think of my mistakes, my learning experiences, my regrets…But what about the experiences that informed the person that I became? Not only the ones that I look back on with misgivings (and, in some cases, shame), but the ones that I recall as examples of the woman I am now?

I talked about this with one of my writer friends (check out her blogs at www.themustachioedladybug.blogspot.com and www.theresolutionrevolution.wordpress.com), and she recalled “adult moments in her childhood.”  Times when, as a girl, she felt like she was having a typically grown-up experience, or a streak of grown-up behavior in the middle of an otherwise childlike existence. But we also discussed times in our adult lives when we were brought back, emotionally, to the feeling of being a kid. Hearing a song or reading a book and flashing back to kindergarten, or to searching for four-leaf clovers in a friend’s backyard, or to snuggling warmly into a parent’s lap.

But back to Dove’s statement. None of these qualify as moments when we became ourselves. I mean, not to get too existential or anything, but who is “myself,” anyway? And whatthe hell is that person doing here?  Am I talking about the person that I want to be?  Or the person that I really am in the here and now?

Existential crisis aside, it seems almost impossible to choose that defining moment. But there was this one time…

I was probably nine or ten, and someone had given me a set of worry dolls as a gift. Worry dolls are a Guatemalan custom, and they’re intended to help people sleep. The idea is that you tell the tiny dolls your worries and put them under your pillow. They do the worrying for you, thereby helping you rest peacefully. Who would give these to a child, you ask? Well, apparently I was a worrier even as a kid.

The funny part is that I remember trying to use them. I lined them up on my comforter, sat down next to my bed, and tried to brainstorm what tribulations I’d share with these itty bitty people. But really. What worries did I have back then? True, I was having legitimate trouble sleeping. But I couldn’t verbalize what was troubling me. I just knew that I couldn’t fall asleep. 

Before I made it through even half of my worry doll assembly line, I knew that I was reaching. My worries weren’t even honest; they were idle thoughts that I imagined grown-ups having. I felt like I was faking it, and—get this—I was frustrated. I was honestly irritated that I couldn’t come up with genuine worries so that I could use my new toys. Who knows if the dolls ever helped me sleep.  I don’t think I ever attempted to use them again.

As it turns out, I’m the same person as I was then (big surprise). I’m still that little girl, perched by my bed, struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Whatever was keeping me up at night back then had much more to do with my overall personality—my exhaustively restless mind—than with actual troubles. And it’s that same overactive imagination that trips me up now. Sure, I have more actual things to worry about now that I’m a “grown-up,” but even that being said, I know how blessed I am. If only I could find those worry dolls again, maybe my subconscious would relax a little.

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