to be a kid again

If Peter Pan showed up at my window and asked me to join him in Neverland, I would fly away in a heartbeat. I’m only 23, but I can feel that as time ticks away, so do bits and pieces of things I treasured most in my childhood, like my imagination.

When I was little, the rooms of my dream house were connected by tunnels and slides. I built forts out of sofa cushions and blankets and it never felt small. One year the Tooth Fairy left me a purple crystal with my tooth in it, and other years she left me money under my pillow. But now that I’m an “adult” who “knows better,” I won’t expect an allowance under my pillow when my teeth begin to fall out, because that’s Life, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

The other day I noticed a little girl, maybe 2-3 years old, who stood wide-eyed before paper butterflies that hung from the ceiling at a mall entrance, marveling at the slight flapping of their wings from the breeze of the swinging doors. I had walked by this display earlier and thought how cheesy the decorations were, but watching the girl in fascination over the fake flowers and butterflies, I realized how much I miss seeing beauty in the ordinary. For a second I tried to envision what the girl saw–a thousand rainbow butterflies floating above a colorful meadow, sparkling with reflections of the sun. In that moment, I too could see the beauty of the cheap  display at the mall entrance. But a moment later, I walked out the swinging door and yelled at a driver for running a red light.

One of the reasons I love kids so much is that I am fascinated by them. They find beauty in ordinary things; they can make things come alive; they find life in obscure places and aren’t afraid to approach them; they don’t complicate things unnecessarily; they don’t discriminate; and they are fearless. Life can be taken at face value when you’re young and untainted. And when Life gets hard, kids can escape to worlds conjured up in their own minds, whereas adults hide their pain behind beer and pill bottles. It’s a shame we have to grow up.

Before I got into my first relationship, I remember wanting to feel heartache. I thought it was part of growing up, of  being human, and I wanted to experience it. Of course it hurt a lot when it actually happened, and rather than having spent hours upon hours analyzing what went wrong, I wish I could’ve just escaped to Neverland, or to an island where the Wild Things live. Reality would have been much easier to cope with.

After my parents’ divorce, I was glad to be far away from them so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately, like Dementors, Life seeped its way across the ocean to interfere with my usual cheerfulness. During that time I often wished to be a kid again, where living in blissful ignorance innocence veiled any and all miseries.

No one should have to grow up “too fast” but when they do, it’s nearly always a painful process. My family members often tell me how 单纯 (danchun), “simple, naive” I am, a fact that I think is ascribed to my Americanized upbringing. My cousin, on the other hand, grew up in China with divorced parents — still a taboo at the time — and a mother who didn’t act like one. While her parents carried on with their own misery or when her mother was absent, my cousin had to fend for herself. Besides what she dealt with at home, she saw ugliness outside too. She learned about Life and all its hardships at a young age when kids I grew up with in Brookline, Massachusetts were playing tag and painting pictures at daycare. Now at  22 years old, my cousin looks, acts and thinks far beyond her age, and definitely far beyond me. The painful part of all of this besides a lost childhood? She wants to be close to her mother.

Perhaps this is a generalization, but from my observations and conversations with adults and children alike, I’ve concluded this: Chinese kids grow up too fast. By the time they’re teenagers, imagination is drilled out of them. One of my biggest difficulties when teaching is getting my students to be creative. They are not yet adults, and they are playful, but their minds have been molded to fit exam bubbles. And this is just the result of the education system; Life, as it was for my cousin, is the other predator.

I started volunteering at a migrant worker community center on the outskirts of Beijing a couple weeks ago. Just being around the kids there is uplifting and even refreshing. They remind me how even the simplest things, like throwing a hackeysack in the air by yourself, can be fun. And getting dirt on your clothes, hands and face is no big deal (as long as you wash up with soap before sticking anything in your mouth). My responsibilities at the center are lacking, but just spending time with the kids is worth the 1 hour 45 minute commute.

As you can probably tell I’m reminiscent of childhood (but I wouldn’t go so far as to start acting like a baby). I like to believe that some of my imagination is still intact and that the rooms of my future house will be accessible by slides. Also, perhaps as subconscious resistance to growing up completely, I find the most enjoyment in stories/plots with child protagonists. Stories like The Little Prince, Where The Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, and Millions take me back to the best days of my life and remind me how precious it is to be a kid. Yes, they are all written by adults, but by adults whom I admire very much for their ability to tell stories from the point of view of size 2 shoes, a wolf suit, and a crown.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m living at home again, or the fact that babies are everywhere in China, or the fact that Life throws negativities once in a while that has stirred me to think about my childhood so much lately. I also recently read Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things. More likely, though, it is a combination of all these factors. I can’t remember when my first time saying “I wish I were a kid again” was, but it has since become a commonly used phrase in my life. I know it’s never going to happen, but maybe if I wish for it at my next birthday and blow out all the candles, it will come true.

Meanwhile, I’m just “drafting through Fairyland…”

I thought I should mention, as I was writing this post, “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell came on, brilliantly summing up everything I just babbled about and gently bringing me back to earth. The world works in funny ways, even for adults, doesn’t it?

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like when you’re older must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game *

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

– Joni Mitchell

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9 Comments on “to be a kid again”

  1. Laura F says:

    Beautiful post! (As always)! It is wonderful to have children remind you of what is really important and beautiful in life. Similarly, this is why I love working with developmentally disabled adults. I love to be reminded that a pigeon really is a beautiful creature when you take the time to look and to realize that the most important things in life are very simple. I don’t believe you will ever lose your imagination Emily!

    • Emily He says:

      HI LAURA!

      You and I share the love for working with people. Is that why we bonded at NYU? Whatever the reason, I’m happy to know someone who can find beauty in a pigeon, a creature I always hid from because they used to poop on me, A LOT! I actually came across another blog a bit ago (http://pigeonheartponderings.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/palomita-amigita/) that helped me to appreciate them rather than fear them. Too bad there aren’t any pigeons in China to show my newfound appreciation, but when I’m back in the US (in MAY for two months!!) I’ll look at them with much more love and respect.

      Thanks for your reassurance that i will never lose my imagination, Laura 🙂 I certainly hope I won’t.

  2. Jeyna Grace says:

    I often think the same.. i wish i could go back in time to be a kid again.

    • Emily He says:

      Perhaps not in real life, but through your stories you can!! Thanks for stopping by my blog Jeyna 🙂 Perhaps when I’m feeling childhood-sick, I can just pop on over to your site and escape for a little while.

  3. I know what you mean as I too frequently lament for my childhood days. I’ve taken to trying to finding old toys that I used to have at antique store and getting them back to re-stock my room. As an adult with a respectable job, I find myself hiding some of the young adult books that I’ve checked out of the library with a homemade paperbag book cover so those people sitting next to me on the bus won’t know.
    It’s a problem- I’m too much of a kid to have any, but too much of an adult to let people see my childlike side.

    • Emily He says:

      What a great idea to find old toys! I haven’t considered doing that, but I do browse through children’s sections in bookstores. Even though the chairs are too small for me, the stories are not. They fit just right. It’s cute that you use a paperbag book cover!! I haven’t done that since I was…a kid! Next time I see an adult reading a book with a cover, I’ll wink and give them a knowing nod 😉

      Thanks for dropping by 4leafclover!

  4. Mooselicker says:

    I think imagination goes as you get smarter. You have more doubt the older you get because you know what failure is. You also know people will and can lie to you. Strange thing is, when you’re a kid all you want to do is grow up. When you’re an adult all you want is to be young again. Then you’re our age and you’re torn between the two when really you’re at the perfect age to do them both. Be young at heart and responsible while doing so. That’s a good compromise, right? That’s why there are so many people in their 20s who drink beer and playing video games. It’s two things that should be separated but somehow come together.

    • Emily He says:

      Interesting…imagination and intellect growing together..hmm you’re probably right! I guess people are never satisfied with what they have, like curly haired folks want straight hair and vice versa, young people want to grow up and old people want to be young again. I should take your advice and spend these years being young responsibly. Then when I’m 80 with no teeth (which I’m excited about–being a grandma–believe it or not) I can tell my grandkids stories about how awesome my in-between-years were. Thanks Tim!! 🙂


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