Archive for July 30th, 2008


I guess this makes me an Eeyore?

July 30, 2008

Last night I decided to crash out on the couch for a while and lazily flip through the channels.  I came across a Diane Sawyer/Primetime special on Randy Pausch, who has been all over the media lately for his famous “Last Lecture,” and who recently died of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind his wife and three little kids.

It was, in a word (or two):  fucking maudlin.  There’s no way to critique the special or Pausch’s lecture without offending someone (everyone?), even though I have no beef with the guy.  He seemed kind and sincere and I feel for his family, especially his wife, who has the hardest row to hoe.  I don’t have a problem with his basic message that life is to be enjoyed (though I wonder that we need to be told this repeatedly), but his relentless emotional flogging of the the idea that Children are Magic! ™ really hacks my squid.  The Primetime special made sure to bash us over the head with it, too.

Children are not magic.  They aren’t special snowflakes, fairy creatures whose wide-eyed, tinkle-bell wonderment teaches us all how to love again.  They are little humans, and, like all humans, are by turns rude, silly, tender, boring, and smelly.  I know, because I was a child, and I fucking hated it

The show made sure to include lots of footage of Pausch romping and nuzzling with his kids, with nary a tear or tantrum.  I have never met children like that.  I was not myself a child like that.  I hated being a kid, and my behavior showed it.  I cried a lot.  I was angry a lot (well, some things don’t change).  I was forever being told to “smile!” by well-intentioned but emotionally-retarded adults, which was a sure-fire way to ensure my scowl for an extra half hour.  I hated being unable to do the things I wanted, and I hated not being able to NOT do the things I didn’t want.  Of course, I still can’t do everything I want to do, and I have to do things I don’t want to do, but I have, by and large, what I wanted as a kid:  agency.  (I also wanted to be a mermaid, but that’s another, though not entirely un-related, post.)  I wasn’t a special snowflake, either–why are so many stories for kids about kids on their own?   Dead or lost parents, amazing adventures in other realms, and secret worlds where kids run the show are legion and lasting.

From the time I was about 6, once I understood what college was, I was absolutely psyched about it.  Independence!  My own schedule!  Lots of stuff to read!  The older I got, the happier I got (and continue to get).  No, “happier” is misleading; I am not dispositionally a “happy” person.  The more satisfied I got, despite my anger, because I was becoming an actor in the world, one who made her own choices.  As I grew, my complex inner life (again, which I think all children have) was finally given some credence, instead of being written off as pique or whimsy.

Childhood is not easy, it is not innocent.  If you think so, you’re not paying attention, or you’re consciously averting it, because you need the idea of childhood.  And it’s the idea of childhood, rather than reality (where your dad can die from a horrible disease) that Pausch and Primetime seemed to be trading in:  huge stuffed animals on stage, folksy homilies about embracing your wacky, wacky impulses!, using story-book characters as models of behavior.  There are enough goddamn “Tiggers” in this world already, and they annoy the fuck out of everyone else.

This isn’t really about Pausch at all. This is about my disgust at the psychic role childhood plays for adults.  They are cast as opposites:  adulthood is responsibility, stress, and work, and childhood is freedom, fun and play.  This is bullshit, of course, even if we ignore all but the most privileged children on the planet.  Life, no matter your age, can be frustrating, ugly and tragic.  Or invigorating, beautiful and joyful.  Sometimes on the same day.   And while I agree with Pausch that one can choose how to respond to these things, I think it has fuck-all to do with Child-Magic.  In fact, since what children lack is agency, appealing to childhood as a way to deal with the slings and arrows of outragous fortune is about the last thing that makes sense. 

I don’t have kids, which will make my opinion on children–and perhaps everything else–worthless in many eyes.  My cold, barren heart can’t possibly know, et cetera.  I can accept that as a possibility, even as I’m happy with my choice to not be a parent.  If the Primetime special made you appreciate your life, then it did what it seemed intended to do, in its syrupy, sledgehammery way.  But if the threat of death or the myth of magic children is required make you realize that you have the agency to make different choices, you’ve got bigger problems than me and my cranky blogs.