Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The disappearance of childhood

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photo: Carbon's map of his island and Port Goon, which has been played out in our backyard all week.

I read a post at Simple Homeschool this week titled on the disappearance of childhood, and it was one of those times when seemingly unconnected and unrelated things and ideas all click together in my mind.

We are listening to an audiobook in the car when we drive around town (as we always do - audiobooks are the magical tool that keeps my children happy in the car), and the book is a sequel to Peter Pan, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean.  The audiobook is narrated by Tim Curry, and it is marvelous.  In this sequel, the Lost Boys and Wendy have all grown up - they are the Old Boys now - but they are dreaming about NeverLand and they are worried that something may be wrong there.  When they realize they need to go back and check on Peter Pan (the Only Child, The Always Child), they have to turn themselves back into children or they can't make the journey.  And the way to turn yourself back into a child is to take a little fairy dust (obtained by being on hand to capture the fairy that springs from a babies first laugh) and sprinkle it on yourself as you wriggle into your own child's clothing.  Because it is through our children that we can re-enter childhood ourselves.

Peter Pan does not describe a childhood that ever really existed, any more than my other favorite, Winnie the Pooh does.  But it describes a certain imaginary landscape of childhood, of romping about on strange islands or 100 Acre Woods and having adventures that are clearly self-directed and based on common childhood fascinations.

Whether or not this long, un-rushed and un-scheduled sort of childhood ever really existed seems to be a point of argument.  I don't really care if it existed for everyone.  I care that, to a great extent, this Did exist for me as a child.  And that time to romp and imagine and think that magic could be real is not time I regret, or wish I had been spending practicing a musical instrument or playing more sports or watching more television.

I don't think it is even an either/or issue.  We don't have to choose Imagination Time OR Music Lessons.  There really is time for both.  Imagination is a very flexible thing, willing to squeeze and change shape to fit into different spaces and amounts of time.  The only things I've found bad for Imagination are Mockery, Stress, Adult-Concerns Leaking In (like having the news on in the background at home), and their cousins Hurry, Quiet, Grow-Up Already, and Advertising.

It is something precious, and it should be treated as such.  Not just for the kids themselves, either, since after all, it is through our children that we are able to get back to the land of childhood ourselves.

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