There are certain qualities I possessed as a child that I wish I could get back, and others that I wish I never had. Kids are a strange mix of strength and guts, fear and anxiety. As a grown up, I still have this mix, but the triggers have all been re-routed. Aging complicates things.
For example, I had no regard for my personal safety when I was a kid. I would climb rickety broken ladders, scale trees, ride a skateboard down the middle of a steep street. My elementary school had these tall bars, all different heights off the ground, that I was obsessed with. I would use every opportunity to perfect different tricks on these bars, spinning around with no hands, and swinging my legs off at the exact right moment to land on the ground five feet below. These days, though, the thought of dropping even five feet makes me sick to my stomach, not to mention doing it while dizzy. It astounds me that I used to have no problem with the possibility of breaking my leg or skull. I had so many bruises from those activities, and I wore them with pride, but f I were to show up to work now with any of those bruises, people would think I was abused. I wish I still possessed that same kind of fearlessness, that ability to forget about the possible harm that could come my way and instead focus on the prize, the thrill of a perfect dismount from the bars. Why did I outgrow that?
Despite my seeming bravado, I still had an irrational childhood fear of toilets. I thought when I flushed, I would get sucked in and die a dizzy, watery death. I would very gingerly reach for the handle, be careful not to lean over the toilet, and in one quick motion flush, turn, open the bathroom door, and RUN away. The more distance between me and that killer bowl, the better. My fear was so powerful that, on occasion, I would beg someone (usually my poor brother) to stand outside the bathroom door so that they could hear my screams and rescue me should I be sucked in. And this was with regular household toilets! You can’t imagine the fear I had the first time I was in an airplane bathroom. Today, while I no longer am afraid of dying by toilet, I am still haunted by things I can not see. I still possess my vivid youthful imagination, but I now throw in horrible, sick twists that only someone older could think of. My adult imagination is my enemy. I miss the days when my toilet was my biggest adversary.
Of course, there are some qualities from childhood that I still possess and have luckily improved upon. I was an extremely competitive kid, the kind that would yell at the other kids in P.E. when they did something wrong. I hated losing, and I still do. Now, however, I can accept that losing is a part of life, and I can accept it – as long as it doesn’t happen very often and I can be allowed to pout for a few minutes! I still have that competitive drive, which has been great for me in the working world. I’ve also gotten my big mouth under control. I used to say the first thing that popped into my head, which made for some interesting parent/teacher conferences. Now I try to wait a beat before I blurt things out, saving me a lot of trouble. Which isn’t to say that I don’t speak my mind, I just consider the consequences first.
I’m not having one of those moments where I wish I was a kid again – being an adult is way more fun. I just long for the way I used to approach life as I child. I had so much passion for things, even the things that scared me, and I miss how pure that passion was. I miss my fearlessness, but I don’t miss the trouble my mouth got me into, or being afraid of bathroom monsters. Maybe some of that passion has been replaced by rationality. My struggle, then, should be to make sure one doesn’t overcome the other.