I remember, quite clearly, what it was like to be small. And by small, I mean really small. Knee-high, out-of-sight, toddler small. Maybe it’s the clarity of the memories, or maybe their sheer distance from my clumsy and inconveniently large current self, but I’ve been reflecting quite often recently on what it was like to be two, or four, discovering the world anew.
On the face of it, being little was a pretty sweet deal. My life consisted of wandering around finding new things to discover/investigate/break (this was the general order of things), chattering at whoever came near, and generally making a ruckus. Come to think of it, my life now consists of pretty much the same things – especially after a pint or three. But I digress. The point being, on the surface, life was a quest for amusement, only occasionally being rudely interrupted by bedtime, mealtime, bath-time or any other bits of adult “structure”.
It sounds pretty idyllic, and it was, but childhood wasn’t all smiles. I think the strangest thing about my memories of my young life is that as much as images, I remember emotions. I think it’s part and parcel of being a kid to have absolute moral clarity. This generally showed up as passionately believing that you were right about everything and that you should be getting your way because of it. As such, if little Josh felt that his rights were being violated, he got mighty mad. I can clearly remember the power of the anger (call it petulance, now) at being put to bed early, having a game stopped, or being talked down to. That’s perhaps the weirdest one – whenever someone told me “You’re too young to understand”, it was really and truly frustrating. My father soon learned just to explain things in adult terms, which would usually bore me or go over my head enough to lose my attention. But childhood wasn’t just about negative emotions of course; the happiness of sitting in the kitchen banging on pots and pans, or building something nifty out of Lego was incomparable.
What strikes me the most, though, is that even with fifteen years of life fogging them, my memories of childhood passions are still some of the strongest feelings I can call up. I think it all comes down to the moral clarity of being a kid. There is little room for reasoned argument with a three-year-old. Any slight against you, to a child, is a violation of what is right. I’ve grown up to appreciate shades of gray, seeing both side of a situation, keeping calm. That is maturity I suppose – the process of moving yourself a few centimeters away from the centre of the universe. When I look back through my rose-coloured glasses at being a child, then, it’s partially the pleasure of being utterly morally clear and completely self-centered that I’m looking back at. As such, it makes me very uncomfortable with anyone who tells me that a cause is “right” or “absolutely justified”. It’s too easy to fall into that trap, of believing firmly in your own righteousness – you end up sharing common ground with the three-year-old, throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor.