My first strong memories of myself as a self are from five years old on. I have memories dating back to two, and could tell you something of what my preschool years were like. But there was something defining about five that catapulted me into who I was. It was the time I really began to think of myself as me, and my place with my family, and muse about why I was myself instead of someone else. (Existentialism begins in kindergarten, yo.)
It's also a time I remember as golden. Sure, I have sour memories, such as when a substitute teacher yelled at me for talking and then tried to make it up to me by having me demonstrate to the class how to tie a shoelace. (Gosh, why do I remember that?) But I generally remember a period of calm, of being loved, of having friends, of being good in school, of playing on the playground behind our houses. I loved singing our Sunday School songs about Jesus loving little children, and I was cozily satisfied that I myself was one of those children. I loved being a child.
And so I look at my older son, who's now six, and I realize I'm already one year past when Childhood began. That's Childhood with a capital C, as I sort of consider the years from around five to ten years old. That's when it seems most iconic, most idyllic (or should be): the years beyond the little-child memory fog and before the tensions of being a tween and teen set in.
And I worry: Am I doing his Childhood right?
It's a lot of pressure on a parent, this realization that he has just one childhood, just one chance, just one bank account for socking away memories. I don't get a do-over.
This place we've chosen to live, this life we've chosen to lead, and all our daily joys and struggles and squabbles and irritations and laughter and silliness and boredom and tears — this is all his to remember as the defining moments of his young life.
Well, holy crap. Hope he likes it.
Did my parents have this inward crisis? Or did they just figure I'd muddle through and enjoy my childhood because — well, what's not to like when everything's paid for you and you're in a stable and loving home?
My dad was in the Army, so we moved every few years. Did that worry my parents at all when it came to how their kids would adapt, or did they just assume we would? Because we did. I liked it, actually. Of course, it was all I'd known. That year I remember of being five was in Alaska, followed the next year by being six in Colorado. I guess that should have been a big change, but I was happy either place since I was with the people I loved and who loved me.
I'd ask Mikko what he thinks about his childhood so far, but I'm sure the answers would be incomplete and exasperating. He'd complain about some current slight (like that we didn't buy him a slushie earlier when he asked) and ignore the larger question (as is right; what does a six-year-old know of perspective?).
I think I'm just going to have to trust that this Childhood is good enough for him, that it's filled more with love and laughter than yelling and disappointment, that his overall sense of what he experienced as a five- and then six-year-old is good, right, uncomplicated.
It motivates me, though, which is a good thing, I think — I can look at those chubby cheeks and think, See, this, this is his Childhood. He has only the one. Be kind.