Monday, December 31, 2012

My Inner Child

One of my friends on Facebook wished me a happy birthday, and hoped I'd find something enjoyable to do on the day.  When I thanked her, adding that I'd better find something enjoyable to do, since all the snow we've been getting would keep me from getting out much, she replied, "You're never too old to go sledding!"

I said that I became too old for sledding when I was ten or so, and she chirped "2013 Resolution: Reconnect with your inner child."  She has some New-Agey culture-of-therapy tendencies, and I debated with myself whether to answer that, but in the end I gave in when I thought of the right response.

"I never disconnected," I told her.  "My inner child is a sissy who doesn't like sports and would rather be indoors on a winter day, reading a good book.  Which is probably what I'll be doing."  I added a smiley (which, yes, is probably almost as bad as "LOL") to try not to seem too mean.

And if I do say so myself, I think that was a good answer.  In fact I often did enjoy playing in the snow as a kid, but more often I preferred reading.  I realized, though, that my friend had a reductive and stereotypical idea of what a child is -- and what an adult is.  Which led me to wonder where the whole notion of an "inner child" came from; according to Wikipedia, which is probably adequate for my purposes here, it comes from analytic psychology and popular psychology.  It seems to assume that children and adults are utterly distinct from each other, and I'm not so sure about that either.  I don't perceive "childish" and "adult" wishes, thoughts, behavior in myself, in clearly separate compartments -- they all seem mixed together and I perceive my childhood through all the memories and experiences I've had since then.

I don't know how many children feel this way, but it seems to me that I often resisted being made to do certain things as a child by adults who wanted to make me do them because they were kid things: dressing up in costume for Halloween, for example, or wearing short pants.  I was more interested in getting in touch with my inner adult.  I've often thought that the story of Peter Pan contains a paradox: children mostly want to grow up, and adults want to be children again, so by refusing to grow up, Peter signals that he has already done so and is no longer a child.  At best he's an adult's idea of a child.  (This paradox lies at the heart of Spielberg's Hook, the only movie of his that I can stand; I've meant to write about that for a long time.  Maybe in 2013.)

I didn't really feel like an adult until I was in my fifties, and I don't think I've often refused to do something because it was childish.  Mostly I wondered when I'd start to feel like a grownup, which on a childish level I assumed went with adulthood: suddenly you wake up and you know what to do, how to take charge, how not to be afraid, how not to get lost, how to fit into the adult world.  I know from talking to other people that this is not uncommon.  If you're lucky, you wake up and realize that you've arrived, and it's time to act as though you knew what you were doing.  Often you were ready before you were an adult, but adults wouldn't let you.

No, I never lost touch with my inner child, who was there all along.  He's often what annoys other adults about me, in fact, but by now he's too big to spank, and unlike an outer child he can talk back.  So reconnecting with him isn't something I need to do.  For the past five or ten years, though, I've been getting in touch with my inner old person, which is easier than I thought it would be.  But then, I've had much more time to get to know him.  A child gets tossed into childhood, as it were, with no warning and no preparation.  No wonder childhood isn't easy.