I've been thinking a lot about childhood the past couple of months. I don't recall exactly what prompted me to start thinking about it (maybe these three children running around), but the thoughts have occupied a fair chunk of my free mind time. Not that I claim to be old or wise, but at 31, I feel like I have a fair understanding of what's important in life and am largely the person I'm going to be, though I hope to keep improving and yada yada. I look at my little daughter, who turns 8 in a couple of months, and am amazed at how fast her life has gone by for me. While childhood feels endless to us as children, due to the lack of comparable experience, it is really just a blip in our lifetime. It seems to me that true childhood ends at about 12 or so, and if we live to the age of 72, childhood is 1/6 of our lives. If you accept that by 24 we are "adults," then in contrast, 2/3 of our lives are spent as adults. Years 12-24 are not childhood and not adulthood, so they are a coming-of-age period, so that is the remaining 1/6.
Anyways, enough with the numbers. My point is, childhood is brief, but it shapes so much of who we are, and our expectations for how the rest of our lives should go. Along this line, I've been looking at what we require of children. We require them to spend a very large amount of time in school, often learning stuff that they won't remember the following month, let alone carry with them into adulthood. Not to say that we shouldn't teach kids anything but progressive skills, where they constantly have to build on what they've learned, but maybe it isn't so important that they spend so much time learning things that they aren't interested in and won't remember. And I don't think we do anyone a service when we force material on kids/youth before they are ready. An example of this in my own life is being required to read Great Expectations my freshman year in high school. All I remembered from that book was creepy Miss Havisham and weird images of her wedding cake and all the cobwebs and whatnot. About a year and a half ago we read it for a discussion group I was a part of, and I was AMAZED at what a fantastic piece of literature it is. So much depth and insight into the human condition. Great characters, vivid imagery and all that good stuff. I fell in love with a book that had given me, 14 years earlier, nothing but an odd, lingering image. Reading the book at age 14 could possibly be considered worse than a waste of time, because a waste of time typically doesn't do harm. But if I'd never picked up Great Expectations again, I'd have forever thought the problem was in the work, rather than in my immaturity at the time I read it.
About a year and a half ago, David and I realized that with Noodle being so much like I was as a child (in love with all things animal, particularly those things with fur), having a dog of her very own would probably be one of the defining experiences of her childhood. (I had a dog of my own, too, but I didn't get him until after 8th grade and it was the kind of dog my dad wanted--a German shepherd--rather than what I wanted--a cocker spaniel or similar dog.) Perhaps this would have been a better thought if we didn't already own two dogs, but nonetheless, we couldn't deny it. We told her she could get her own dog when she turned 8, and she started saving. Every dollar her Pop Pop gave her, all her birthday and Christmas money, any money earned from extra chores went into her empty TANG container. She saved $100! We found a dog of a breed we'd researched and thought would be a good fit, and on Saturday, April 3rd, we went and got him. Orbit is a miniature rat terrier, born December 30, 2009. He is a great pup. While he still has manners to learn, he is very snuggly and playful, and gets along well with the other canines.
It makes me wonder if there will be a similar defining experience we can give to Spud and Sprout. I hope so. I hope we'll have the wisdom to recognize it.
I wish I could better encapsulate my thoughts on this topic. I don't feel like I'm doing an adequate job capturing the poignancy I feel about it, but oh well.