I’ve never gotten over growing up. I must’ve longed to grow up at some point, I suppose, fantasizing about unknown, illicit future pleasures as all kids do—but once I’d done it, I quickly wished I hadn’t. When I see a pair of third graders slumping home after school with backpacks and sneakers trading meaningless conversation, I feel nothing but surly envy. Passing a playground with careless shrieks and jeers from swing sets and monkey bars, I want to join. But I cannot; that would be creepy.Anya Jaremko-Greenwold YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK: ON LOVING CHILDREN’S BOOKS AS AN ADULT
Here is the thing. Unless Anya’s real life is vastly different from the one she writes about, she hasn’t grown up. She’s a child in a young woman’s body who just happens to be possessed with enough self awareness to know it would be creepy to play on monkey bars with little kids. And even then, I wonder if she thinks it would be creepy, or that the self awareness she’s possessed with allows her to understand that grownups would think it was creepy?
In this article, she’s reviewing Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult (Bruce Handy). Commenting on his ability “to circumvent the social inconvenience of haunting library kid’s sections” by having children of his own, she asks,
But what if you don’t want kids? Those of us who still feel like children—anxious, sensitive, convinced of monsters—don’t necessarily feel equipped or interested in raising others.
To which I say, “Grow the F*&^ up.”
Wondering about the popularity of The Giving Tree she says, “… the book’s popularity is plain: don’t all children guiltily suspect we’ve stolen our parents’ lives?” No. They do not. Maybe your mother (or father, but more likely mother) made you feel that way, but that’s your problem. Do not project onto all children. That’s delusional.
As a feminine resistor, I’m insulted. Women have had to become mothers, housekeepers, nurturers—we grew up out of necessity and even via force. Handy is sharp enough to note that women writers like Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) and Louisa May Alcott may have felt “obligated” to follow their fictional heroines all the way through to adulthood and marriage, a fate never inflicted on the likes of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, or on any boy book heroes excepting Harry Potter (whose creator was, non-coincidentally, a woman). Alcott’s editors and eager lady readers didn’t want Jo to remain an unfettered recluse, and the author was unable to shake the pressure. She married Jo off. This adherence to social stricture seems to me cause for pity—not contempt, as Handy implies. After all, sometimes we don’t get to become the sort of person we’d dreamt of being.
In answer to the question, “What the hell is wrong with these people,” I was tempted to suggest it must be genetic. But it’s worse than that. It’s epigenetic: “pertaining to the interaction of genetic factors and the developmental processes through which the genotype is expressed in the phenotype” (not that you care but, Lincoln et al., 1982, as quoted in Deans and Maggert, 2015). So in other words, how the environment, writ micro- and macroscopic, comes to affect gene expression and all that is downstream of it.
As all– let’s see how far down the tree do I want to go?– animals, these people are genetically predisposed to reproduce. (Not that that would be a good thing, I’ve seen Idiocracy.) And just as the vast majority of people past, present, and future, deep down in their genes they probably want to as well. But they were raised to distain the joy that comes from working hard to provide a warm, loving home in which one raised potential grownups. Because that’s what parents do: raise children who have the potential to be grownups. Their parents failed in this regard.
Anecdote. When the girls were little, they took “clay class” from the mother of one of their best friends (to this day!), Leslie. Leslie related a sad story to me. She had once asked a little girl who’d made something or other in clay class where her mom (more affluent than either of us) was going to put it. And the little girl replied “a drawer because it doesn’t go with Mommy’s decorating.” Is it any wonder they didn’t “get to become the sort of person we’d dreamt of being?”
Enough. I’m off to buy a copy of A Little Pretty Copy Book by John Newberry for grandson ‘Phen who, by the way, has the potential to be one awesome happy grownup.