Adults don’t know how to talk to children. We bend over and ask “what are you learning in school” because once it’s behind us, we think of childhood as a foreign territory: children as being something other. A separate animal from homoadultus. We talk to them like we talk to foreigners, slowly and with short sentences. Occasionally in a louder voice than is strictly necessary.
This is because we were never children.
Sure we experienced learning how to walk, and there was a time when we knew less and our mother called us to get out of bed in the morning and Ms. Johnson spanked us for kicking that dumb boy who said something rude. But we were never distinct from ourselves, fitting into the category of other. Maybe you can pinpoint a day when you lost your innocence, but that probably has little to do with your age at the time.
We are the same spirit all the way through. The same eyes, the same senses, the same memory collection mechanisms whirring away between our ears. Our experience is continuous. We are one from start to finish, evolving minute by minute, but never not ourselves.
At three, I could walk into a room and say the one thing that was guaranteed to get everyone with their knickers in a twist. I talk less in public now for that very reason, because I never know what that thing is going to be and it isn’t good for my bank account, this saying things that everyone is thinking and other people have the good sense not to say. Sure I’ve evolved. I talk less in public: that’s growth, isn’t it?
It doesn’t matter when it happened, it happened to me. The dream of walking up a long flight of stairs in a red velvet queen’s cape. That was me. The dream where I found my ex’s cat in a pet store, and the damn thing bit me. That was me too. The nightmare of being picked up by a bulldozer and being dumped in a junkyard fire. That was me. The reccurring dreaming landscape, a city on a hill and the roads to get there. All me.
The idea that we are temporarily bodies and permanently ourselves makes sense to me, because the thread that animates this body holds steady and taut, even as the flesh grows around it and then inevitably sags and deflates.
Adults don’t know how to talk to children because there are no children. We talk to them like monkeys in the zoo: close cousins. Cute, to be sure. And they look at us with disdain in return because they know, even if we do not, that we are the idiots who refuse to recognize that they are just like us, just caught in a slightly different bubble of time and mostly free from the burden of paying the rent.