I wrote this poem when I was in Spain, at the Med, with my host family. They had the cutest little boy named Pablo, you couldn’t help but watch him. This is what he inspired that day:
Innocence is blonde curls and a naked, sandy butt.
Running into an ocean without checking with your toe for the temperature.
Fingering your ding-a-ling for all to see.
Confidently rambling in Spanish to foreign strangers.
Innocence is loving everyone, most of all yourself.
And your sandcastle.
I’ve been thinking about Pablo lately, and that crazy, unyielding tolerance and unabashed nature that kids have. Losing our innocence is something we’ve all reflected on at some point in our lives, but it’s so strange being a middle school teacher, watching it happen on a daily basis. I listen to some of my students and think, oh man, why don’t I have that anymore? That spark, that unafraid boldness that creates a killer essay, hilarious journal entry, or just the truest shouted out response to a question. Sometimes it stops me mid-lesson and I just stare for a second at what I once must have had myself. I want that! I miss that!
Now, just to write this blog for example, I’ve lazily pondered and procrastinated for a month, trying to decide which topic was worthy, waiting for inspiration. I finally decided after sitting here at Starbucks for half an hour, realizing that when I was young, by this time I would’ve already written three short stories and five poems. I had spirals and diaries full of scribblings. They might have all been complete garbage, mainly about a talking dog/detective or my imaginary twin sister Ashley who had super powers, but I didn’t care, I just wrote. My latest poetry notebook is only half full and I started it three years ago. My novel has been sadly waiting for a decent edit, neglected. I’ve written one short story in the past year. What was once second nature is now analyzed to the point of destruction of the idea altogether. Everything we say and do nowadays seems to be sent through a filter of, “Is it good enough?” and “How many calories does that have?” and “What would other people think of this?”
Kids just don’t care about most things…and it’s great! I love it for them, it allows them to be more themselves than they’ll probably be for a long time. Once high school comes around, most people get swept up into being someone else, someone they think they should be, and it tends to not go away completely for quite a while. My students are hot messes of emotions—they wear it all on their sleeves and they don’t mind who sees them cry while sharing a journal, yell at their backstabbing friend in the hall, or smile the hugest smile and fist pump after getting a test back. We adults tend to hide and privatize and pretend and fake and the list goes on… I worry sometimes that this means kids are the only genuine people on the planet. They’re our future but they’re being taught to grow up just like us and lose their wide eyes, cash in their dreams, and harden. Somewhere along the line, becoming an adult came to mean valuing realism over creativity and stability over enthusiasm. Good credit, salary, and a solid health plan trump artistic abilities, honesty, and loyalty.
Other times, I realize the benefits of growing up: the reason, logic, you know, basically all that boring stuff that kids don’t give a shit about but it actually does come in handy eventually. The other day, the last bell rang, releasing my class for Thanksgiving break. Many of them were meeting in the band room for a picture, so they were all racing to the bathrooms to change. I’m typing away on my computer, thinking everyone has left. Then I notice Colby. In the corner of my room, half-naked. My immediate thought was, oh, so I’m probably going to get fired. If someone would have walked by, Jesus. The youngest teacher in school, alone in her room with a half-naked 12-year-old boy. Sounds like a news story I’ve heard a time or two. The best part was, after I flipped out on him and told him to put his clothes on, his reaction was just a sheepish grin, shrug, and “Sorry Miss.” Of course he’s not going to think of the implications, he’s simply thinking that he needs to change and all the bathrooms are full.
Things used to be simple like this. Come home, have a snack, do homework, watch TV, eat dinner, go to bed. Now we live over-complicated lives with over-complicated gadgets and “life tracks” and lists and plans and wants and worries and hopes and fears.
We know how to make smart choices now. That doesn’t mean that we always choose to make them, obviously. But at least we know the difference between what we should and shouldn’t do… But does this even matter, since we continue to make bad decisions? And maybe making those “bad” decisions should actually be seen as freeing and modes of self-expression and glimpses into the innocence we once had. There has to be some sort of balance, because innocence is genius. There has to be some way to hold onto that passion we had when we were kids, that brazen attitude that we carried around like a giant trophy. I try to capture that brash bliss every time I write, every time I eat ice cream, every time I open up to a person.
We have to try to do this more, or else our world will look so bleak, boring, and robotic fifty years from now.