If Nothing Bad Happened, How Can I Say My Childhood Wasn’t Happy?

I heard Rosendale’s newest song, “Just a Kid,” about how he wants to be a kid forever and I realized… I don’t want that.

Childhood wasn’t a happy time for me. Nor was it an unhappy time. It wasn’t about any external events which happened in my childhood—I was more fortunate than many, perhaps most children, in the circumstances I was born into. It was more about the internal experiences. (And yes, there were times when I felt happy as a kid, that’s just not the dominant mood when I recall my childhood).

One of my oldest memories is about trying to reach the sink and failing because I was too short. It was so awful that I do what I wanted. No authority figure stopped me from reaching that sink—I just lacked the ability. That’s what my childhood memories feel like—an inability to reach for my goals.

Memory is fussy. I don’t entirely trust my memories. However, when I ask myself what was the happiest period in my life, I would say my later teens. 19 years old was the best. In Rosendale’s song, if I swap out the lyrics in “I’m just a kid” to “I’m just nineteen” it resonates better with me. And yet… not quite.

The great thing about being an older teen is that I had far more ability to do what I wanted than when I was a young child, but was still oh so youthful and… less experienced in how life could grind me. I was less cynical.

Yes, authority figures put fewer restrictions on what I could do when I was nineteen than when I was nine, but what was more important was that my own capabilities were greater. I could, relying on myself, do more.

Notice that I remember being an older teen as the happiest period in my life—not the best period in my life. No. Having a good life is about more than being happy. In other periods of my life, I did more to improve the world. I mattered more.

Oh, I forgot to mention a key part of the sink memory. I couldn’t ask for help. Because I couldn’t talk.

People talked around me. I understood what they said (or at least I believed I understood them, since I was a child I’m sure I didn’t understand what they said as well as adults did). But I couldn’t talk back. Speech delay.

Through tutoring, I did, at long last, learn how to talk. But impressions had already been made on my tender young mind. As I write this, I wonder how much of my enthusiasm for ‘DIY’ stuff comes from a sense that I must do it myself because others won’t do it for me, not because they are malicious, but because they will never understand what I want. Whoa. That attitude explains quite a few of my decisions.

I thank Rosendale for prompting this self-reflection, and recommend his new song “Just a Kid.”

1 thought on “If Nothing Bad Happened, How Can I Say My Childhood Wasn’t Happy?

  1. I also distinctly recall not wanting to “be a kid forever” as a child. My mom has recently been switching over all of our family videos to cloud storage from dvds (that were originally copied from VHS) and had been asking if I remember XYZ and I just remembered the awkwardness of being a kid. The newer memories of my parents taking tai chi classes with me as a demonstration of supporting my 30y/o+ interests even though it’s not really their thing and the vacation I took with my mom two years ago where I was a part of the planning process instead of just along for the ride because my parents said “family vacation time” are much more enjoyable than any parallel childhood memories. To each their own, I guess, but I can’t think about being a kid with remembering the awkwardness and lack of agency and I just cringe

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