By many standards, I've been an "adult" for quite some time. I have a seven year old child and have been financially dependent for myself since I moved out of my parent's house at 17. I'm a college graduate and have been in the workforce since I was 12, first as a babysitter. By 14, I held two jobs, by 16 I held three. But, do any of these things really make me an "adult?"
Most societies designate a time, that is tied to an experience. to acknowledge a person's passing from childhood into adulthood. In ancient Sparta, both boys and girls were separated from their homes at age 7 to begin their long journeys into adulthood, alone. Young Lakota boys, often in their teenage years, were encouraged to leave their villages alone and venture off into the wilderness, returning after days of fasting and meditation as men. Thirteen year-old Apache girls can undergo a four-day ceremony meant to encapsulate the Apache creation story that ends in an all-night dancing ceremony. Canadian Inuit boys from Baffin Island as young as 11 years old are taken on a coming-of-age hunting trip with their fathers, also In the United States and many other countries today, turning 18 marks the moment a person changes from child to adult.
But, is this transition so stark?
As I mentioned, I have a seven year old and God forbid he be called a baby. Yet, he wants to fall asleep next to me and doesn't trust himself to modulate the hot water in the shower on his own because he's afraid it'll get hot too fast. And, at the same time, he wants so badly to be big. To make his own decisions on what to eat and when to sleep. To be an adult. He groans at the thought of being childish. Being childish is disadvantageous. It's annoying.
In movies, at school, from the mouths of other adults, many children hear society, by and large, saying they should be seen and not heard (presumably because they don't have anything important to say). Many children learn that being a child is something they should escape. Yet, children are most often used as scapegoats in embarassing or frustrating situations. "You know how children are." Or, "it was probably that kid." For many kids, childhood is seeing mostly as something that holds you back.
Adora, a very adult-sounding child, talks about what she thinks childish means. She talks about how we need to change this narrative because in actuality, children all over the world and throughout time have changed the world with their intelligence, courage, wisdom and strength. Children like Anne Frank. Or, Malala Yousafzai.
This causes me to question. How do we look at ourselves as adults? As once-were kids?
As an adult, we are encouraged to be as kid-less as possible. In the work place, in higher-education, in the grocery store. But, what does it mean to be kid-less? What does it mean to be an adult?
Does it meant to be impeccably responsible? Does it mean to manage our time with an acute sense of precision? Does it mean to not show weakness? Which then begs the questions...what is responsible? What is a good use of time? And what is weakness?
Is responsible showing up to work everyday, even if you hate it? Does managing your time mean putting your needs last, after everything else is accomplished? Is weakness crying in front of your kid? Or your boss?
What do these things mean, to a kid? Or, not just any kid, but the kid in you? Because, the foundations of what it means to be an adult, is laid in childhood and those foundations are not lost in whatever rite of passage your cross to enter into your world as an adult.
As a teacher, what moves me the most is how children first listen through their hearts. Not their ears. And not their eyes. They feel first, think later. For some reason, as we grow older, we are conditioned to do just the opposite. As a matter of survival, because feeling is unpredictable and therefore, its a vulnerable place from which to act.
But that's just the thing. The way kids respond is unadultrated: fresh, spontaneous and new. Impulsive, in a way. Which is a bad thing to be as an adult. As an adult, I hear that we should always "think first." Yet, we are brought into this world first learning how to feel. I think there is something magical in firsts, not primitive. Not backward. Not ignorant. We first feel.
Yet, from many places in society, we are ridiculed because of how we feel, so we learn to curb it. We learn to hide it. We learn not to trust it. We cater to the responses of those around us. If our parents laugh at our ideas, we change them. If our friends put us down for our beliefs, we hide them. If a teacher says we can't do it, we stop trying.
But what if we didn't do that. What if we reached down into the kid in each of us, whether we are kids now or adults, and stood by our understandings of the world. Our feelings first. We conditioned our thoughts to protect our silliness. Our curiosity. What if we worked with what responsible meant to each of us and tried not to adhere to a generalized standard of behaviors and instead, embraced a unified understanding of morality. What if we didn't judge each other for how we spent our time, as long as it was in ways that evolved us each as individuals forward? And if one among us wasn't embracing morality or evolution, we embraced them as most children do when they see someone in pain - with an open heart. Because they feel, first.
Curious about how you can tap into your kid-self? Especially if that's a part of you you thought you'd shut away forever? Treat yourself as you would your child if you have one. With as much love, patience and understanding as you can muster. If you don't have a child, how about your best friend's baby? With respect, with love, without judgement. With encouragement. Too many of us treat ourselves and our impulses with repudiation, judgement and negative criticism. And that's not from us. We learn that.
Maybe that's why so many people are unhappy as adults...we are telling ourselves, as adults, who used to be kids, that our ideas are stupid, that we aren't enough.
Perhaps if we loved each other first as children, we'd be less judgmental, less insecure and less angry.