We lose our childhoods in pieces. It is not a sudden transformation, not like turning sixteen or twenty-one. There are no phases in life that when passed, end our inner childhood. Childhood is something we carry inside of ourselves and to which we are always drawn to through memories, smells, touches, pictures, and places. When something crosses our path that reminds us of a happy memory from when we were seven years old, we unconsciously smile, we breathe in that moment of pure joy, thinking of a part of ourselves when we were carefree and unattached by the world around us.
I had a happy childhood. It was not rich; we did not have much; our house was not big. I had freedom, friends, and family. I never felt pressured, pushed to do things I did not want to do, I played on the streets and ate ice-cream in the summer. I did not have any inner workings at the time; I lived outside of myself mostly. Which I feel is what every child should do, live outside and absorb the world around.
The first time a piece of my childhood fell away was when I was twelve years old. I don’t remember the exact moment or even a season, but I know that something has shifted and the world I lived in, the one outside of my inner shell cracked. Dark times were upon my town, my country. The evil that as a child I did not understand was lurking, watching us children and waiting to wrench away a piece of our world. Children in Syria know of this evil.
Second time my childhood shell lost its layer was when I left home to come to another continent, young, foolish and full of hopes. I was scared, but because I was still a child, I still lived outside of myself. I thought of things that made me lose the first layer, and I wanted to move forward, leave the cracked pieces where they fell, somehow hoping to preserve what was left of the innocence.
Things don’t work out the way we plan. Losing our childhood is an irreversible process, once it starts, it cannot be contained. It continues, and as adults, we are left even more vulnerable. We think of children as weak and defenseless, but children are made of these tough shells, which protect them from the world penetrating too deep inside. Adults lose these shells.
Third time a layer of my childhood peeled off was when the terrorist attacks started happening in the USA on September 11th, 2001. A column of unmistakable hatred that cracked my shell rose around my new home. I see other children now, innocent, losing their layers. Children who are Muslim and don’t understand why suddenly they are accused of things that they do not understand; Children going to concerts, not understanding why they are being targeted. They suddenly are told that a whole group of people hates their way of life; Children whose parents tell them they should be afraid of people living in their neighborhood. I understand that historically, this type of shift has often happened, except the shift seems closer now, as the whole world is pushed closer.
My childhood shell has become very thin and fragile, and no matter how much I try to protect it and save pieces that I feel I should gift to my children, they keep disappearing.
My grandmother died a couple of weeks ago. Her passing was a piece of my childhood that left naturally, an inevitable process that life brings forth and teaches us to look at ourselves and try and protect the childhoods of those children around us. When she died, I knew that a hole was left that would never be filled. I feel that as those adults I looked up to disappear, I am morphed into their shells, new shells hardened by life and circumstances.
Some of us transform sooner than others, in my family there are individuals who lost their parents early, too early, unexpectedly, the evil taking their childhood protectors away. I was lucky to keep my parents, and they still hold this one piece of my childhood shell, and I try to cherish it and them every day.
I wish I had knowledge, imagination, gumption to invent a mechanism that repairs our childhood cocoons, our eggs of laughter and joy. I would give one to every adult in the world. Perhaps, they would begin to understand how precious the cocoons are. Perhaps they would understand why they would need to preserve childhoods of others around them, children and adults alike. Perhaps the wars would end, and we could all be children forever.