Why Childhood & Innocence are Overrated

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that being an adult & living in the so-called “real world” sucks, I’d be a rich woman.  And if I had a dollar for every time I read a Facebook status saying the exact same thing I’d be even richer.  I’m not an idiot, nor am I incapable of empathy, so I can understand where some of these sentiments come from, yet I for one love being an adult.  I’ve written about this topic before (see: https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/11/15/10-reasons-why-growing-up-doesnt-actually-suck/), but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately & thus feel compelled to revisit the subject.

I've laughed at these memes too, but honestly I love being an adult & am puzzled as to why so many others don't.

I’ve laughed at these memes too, but honestly I love being an adult & am puzzled as to why so many others don’t.

Every time I hear people say they miss the innocent, carefree state of childhood, I always want to ask them what the hell they are talking about.  Now I know I was in some ways a rather odd child, but whenever I hear people saying this stuff about how childhood was such an easy, worry-free time of life, I have to resist the urge to run away screaming.  I don’t want to make my parents look bad because they were & are wonderful people who did a great job raising me.  But for reasons that were largely out of their control, I just don’t remember my childhood being this endless cycle of happiness & rainbows & unicorns that so many other people seem to recall.  I don’t want to sound like I’m having a pity party because trust me I am very aware of how blessed I am just to have been born in America & into a loving, stable family.  I have plenty of good memories from childhood & adolescence, but that doesn’t mean my childhood was something I look back on with much nostalgia. childhood is overrated

Perhaps I’m just being overly negative, but the greatest thing I remember from my childhood, certainly from about age eight upwards, was the overwhelming desire to grow up so that I could be respected & treated like the intelligent person I knew I was & so that I could escape a world to which I wasn’t too sure I really belonged.  I don’t think I totally understood the latter part of this at the time, but looking back I can see the desire was there all along.  Somewhere deep inside of me I knew that as an adult I’d have a level of confidence in myself that as a child & teen I could only dream of having.  I yearned for the day when I’d be able to look in the mirror only once or twice before leaving the house, when I wouldn’t scrutinize every tiny aspect of my appearance out of fear that everyone else was certainly noticing all of my numerous (perceived) flaws.  And I for one am happy to say that adulthood has not disappointed me in these regards.

As a kid, I yearned to grow up, partly because I knew as an adult I'd be able to laugh at myself.  I'm so glad this turned out to be true.

As a kid, I yearned to grow up, partly because I knew as an adult I’d be able to laugh at myself. I’m so glad this turned out to be true.

You see, I was one of those weird kids who actually loved school, not for the social aspect like most kids do, but for the pure love of learning.  Indeed, the social aspect of school was what gave me nightmares.  Every summer I would go through such great anxiety as I worried about whether or not I’d get lucky enough to be in a class with anyone from my small group of friends (who of course were the other nerds like me).  When I was that lucky, things were decent.  When I wasn’t, I begged my mom to homeschool me.  I was never strictly bullied but I was certainly made fun of enough to always remember that horrible feeling of knowing everyone’s laughing at you or being the last person picked in gym class too many times to count.  Looking back on it, I’m incredibly glad that my mother didn’t listen to my pleadings because learning to be myself in a world where that wasn’t so easy was one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life, & even though it was miserable at the time, I’m so glad I learned it at a young ageRWE quote

As far as the whole worry-free concept goes, I for one don’t ever remember such a stage in life, certainly not past about age seven or eight.  Granted my worries back then were, in the grand scheme of things, fairly inconsequential.  Things like passing tests, making sure I remembered my gym suit or lunch money, & finding someone to eat lunch with are clearly not life or death matters.  HOWEVER, THEY FELT LIKE IT AT THE TIME.  AND THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS.  And that is what everyone seems to forget.  Wearing the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, of which I apparently have never owned a pair, I suppose it’s easy to forget the way that every little drama you encountered as a child, & certainly as a teenager, seemed like the beginning or end of your whole life.  But perception is your reality & at the end of the day that’s all that matters.perception reality

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, & the older I get, the more I’m starting to realize that anxiety, especially social anxiety, has always been a part of my life.  I think part of my anxiety stems from intrinsic factors (essentially my brain’s natural chemistry) & part of it stems from extrinsic factors (things such as not fitting in well at school).  Thankfully my anxiety has never been totally crippling or so overwhelming that I’ve become a hermit or abandoned all semblance of a social life.  But it’s something that I’m starting to realize has had a greater impact on my life than I might like to admit.

However, what I’m also starting to realize is that perhaps the greatest gift life could have given me was NOT having a “perfect” childhood.  Why, you ask?  Because it has allowed me to never for one second regret growing up & becoming the adult I always wanted to be.  While so many others despise the responsibilities of adulthood, I cherish them because I know they are what allow me to enjoy the freedoms of adulthood, freedoms that I would not for one second trade for the so-called blissful innocence of childhood.  Yes, there are days when I look at the world & seriously struggle not to become a hateful cynic.  But there are many more days when I look at the world in awe & fascination & gratitude that I get to experience this beautiful journey of life.  And to me being able to face all the hideousness of the world, all the cruelties & injustices that occur day after day after day on this planet, yet still being able to find the beauty & joy that life has to offer . . . Well, that, coupled with enjoying the freedoms of adulthood, is to me more magical than any kind of blissful ignorance or innocence that childhood could ever offer.freedom albert camus

Cheers, & happy Friday, everyone!

The February Depression

Is it just me or does anyone else think February is the most depressing time of the year?  I’ve felt this way for many years & I think there are several logical reasons for it.  By the time February rolls around winter weather has been solidly in place for a good 3-4 months, depending on the climate where you live.  Even the hardiest of us get tired of the wind & cold after a while.  I don’t know about y’all but the red dry skin on my face that is now actually quite painful is begging for a dose of spring warmth & sunshine ANY TIME NOW.  (And I consider the winter here to be quite mild compared to what I got used to while living in the mountains during college.)  Additionally winter is usually a time in which most people do not take vacations or do anything all that exciting & adventurous, unless of course you’re into winter sports like skiing & snowboarding, which I most definitely am not.  Furthermore, by the time February comes around, the excitement of Christmas & New Year’s has long since passed while the advent of spring still seems much too far away.  All in all, it’s a pretty bleak month.  And I don’t know about those of you reading this, but I am the type who feels GUILTY for being saddened by all of this, even though I realize it’s perfectly normal to feel a little “down about life” at this time of year.  Argh.

Another theme that’s been crossing my mind a lot lately is the feeling that everyone else’s life is more exciting than mine.  Is it just me or does anyone else feel this way?  I’m quite sure I’m not alone on this one.  As much as I hate myself for doing this, I often find myself comparing my lifestyle to my friends & acquaintances, particularly those who are about the same age as me.  The trouble I run into is that on the one hand the average person my age in my hometown has kids (whether married or not) & thus leads a very different lifestyle than I do.  A fair amount of folks my age back home are married but plenty aren’t also.  Some own houses, some don’t.  On the other hand the average person my age here in a more urban environment (granted almost anything is more urban than my hometown) lives in an apartment, either with a significant other or with friends or maybe even alone; goes to bars frequently; travels as much as they can afford; & generally still leads what I think of as a more “college lifestyle.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with either lifestyle & I am not trying to pass judgment on anyone here.  I’m just saying that as a 25 year-old nurse, wife, homeowner, & NON-parent I sometimes feel like I am a bit out of place in life, kind of caught between two worlds so to speak.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my station in life.  I love being married to my husband, owning a home, having a dog, & working as a nurse.  And I love the freedom of not having kids yet.  I don’t want to go to bars every week, but I can still do that on the rare occasions I actually want to.  My husband & I can go out to eat alone or with friends as often as we please with no worries about finding a baby-sitter or spending our child’s future college fund.  It’s easy for me to look back on college with great fondness because I do have a ton of wonderful memories from that time, but in the golden light of nostalgia it’s easy to forget the stress that came along with that time in my life (mountains of homework, the constant stream of tests & clinicals, lack of money, etc).  The freedom I have now is truly without comparison to any other point in my life.  And it’s amazing.

And yet I still find myself feeling like my life is boring.  It’s not that I necessarily think it’s boring; it’s just that in comparison to my peers, I feel like my life must be awfully dull.  My husband travels for his job several times a year, often to exotic locations like Hawaii, & many of my friends my age take fairly frequent trips & vacations just for fun.  I on the other hand have to FORCE myself to actually take a vacation & travel somewhere.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy traveling.  I do.  It’s just that the idea of buying a plane ticket & planning out an entire trip stresses me the hell out.  I know; that is so pathetic.  You see why I say I feel boring?  But I can’t help it.  It’s just the way I am.   As much as I love trips to the mountains to hike or days at the beach, at my core my favorite place to be is at home with my husband & puppy.  Magazines & therapists everywhere say that one of the best ways to reignite the romance in your marriage or relationship is to go out of town with your partner.  Not so for me.  A weekend at home with my husband is the most romantic thing I can think of.  I know.  Am I 80 years old or what?  But I think the reasoning behind that is that to me romance springs out of comfort & home is where I’m most comfortable . . . So there you go.  (I suppose the advantage to this is that I can have romantic weekends at home almost every weekend of the year which is definitely fun.)

I realize the real solution here is to stop comparing my life to my peers.  Yet I also know it’s human nature to do so & trying to stop it is probably futile.  I guess what I need to realize is that I am happy with my life & that’s all that matters.  If my life doesn’t square with what the average person my age is doing here or in my hometown or anywhere, who cares?  It’s MY life after all.  And the same is true for anyone reading this.  I also know that as soon as spring rolls around, a lot of the lingering depression that seems to slowly sink in along with the winter will quickly alleviate.  I find this happens every spring.  As soon as it starts getting a little warmer, the days get a little longer, & the flowers start blooming I almost instantly feel a significant lift in my spirits.  And every year I think “Wow, I didn’t realize how bad I’d been feeling,” probably because the “February depression” is such a gradual thing that I hardly realize it’s happened until it’s gone.  For some reason this year I seem a bit more aware of it; perhaps this is a sign that my mental health has actually improved because I’m more in tune with myself, so to speak.

In any case, here’s to spring & planning some mini-vacations & weekend getaways, if not full-out vacations.  After all, one of the most rewarding things we can do in life is to step outside our comfort zones & do the things that scare us.

And here’s to continuing to remind myself that life isn’t a competition; it’s a journey.  And just because my journey looks a little different than someone else’s doesn’t mean either of us is wrong.

The Seasons of Life

Today I went to the pool for what may very well be the last time this summer. I’m still calling it summer because technically it is & since I’m no longer in school I never feel like it’s truly fall until late September when the weather actually begins to cool down & the leaves start to change colors (although as I discovered last year the leaves in Raleigh don’t really start changing till October). There is always a part of me that feels sad whenever I go swimming for the last time each summer. As a kid I thought swimming was the ultimate thing to do in the summer & I just couldn’t stand to be around a lake or pool or any body of water & not be in it as much as possible. I’ll admit that as an adult most of my time spent at the pool is now spent reading BY the pool, not actually in the water, but I always make time to get in the water at least a little while to cool off & just enjoy the feeling of the water around me. It really is a magical feeling that brings back a lot of good childhood memories.

Fall leaves at RU, October 2009

Fall leaves at RU, October 2009

I love all four seasons of the year, each one for different reasons. But if I had to choose I would say fall is my favorite, especially now that I’m out of school & can really enjoy fall for all the fun things it brings instead of just associating it with the beginning of another school year. (Not that I hated school, in fact in many ways I loved it & miss it dearly, but nonetheless I do feel like I enjoy fall more now that I’m out of school.) I’ve often heard people say they would love to live in Florida or Southern California or some place like that where it feels like spring & summer all year. Even as a kid I never thought that sounded too spectacular because I have always loved all four seasons & can’t imagine life without them. To me the seasons have so much to teach us about the seasons of life & the good & bad things that each of those seasons brings.

One of the things that has made life after college somewhat confusing for me is that I no longer really feel like I have something specific that I’m working toward. I’ve always been a very goal-oriented person so being in school was very good for me because I always felt like I had something to work toward. I could focus on small goals like acing my math test at the end of the week or larger goals like graduating from college & starting my nursing career. Either way I always felt like I had an end-goal in mind. In a way the freedom of no longer being in school is fabulous & I obviously really enjoy it because I’m no longer in a rush to go back to school like I always thought I would be. Yet at the same time I often feel like I’m just drifting around, not sure on what to focus my enthusiasm & hopes for the future.

What I am slowly learning though is that drifting isn’t so bad. There is nothing wrong with having goals in life; indeed I’m a big believer in having goals because in aiming to achieve them we so often push ourselves to bigger & better things than we ever imagined. However, I am also learning that it’s ok to just relax & enjoy the seasons of life as they come. As a kid I was always in such a hurry to grow up. I just wanted to be an adult so I could have the freedom & respect that adulthood provides. I am very happy to say that adulthood hasn’t disappointed me yet & I’ve never once looked back on childhood with any real nostalgia. If that sounds depressing, I promise you it isn’t. What I find depressing is the people who look back on high school as “the good old days.” That just screams to me that they are disappointed with their current life. I don’t ever want to look back on any part of my life as the best time. I want every season of my life to be the best season, & I truly believe it can be if I continue to strive to enjoy every moment of my life as it comes without focusing too much on the past or on the future. I’ve read a lot of books (fiction) & seen a lot of movies whose message is to “live in the moment” & I am slowly learning how important that really is. It is of course necessary to remember the past so that we can learn from ours & others’ mistakes. And it’s also necessary to have a plan in place for the future. For example, the only reason I have a good career, a wonderful husband, & a house at a fairly young age is because as a teenager I thought ahead to the kind of future I wanted & made good decisions so I could get there.

However, in a world that feels rushed 24/7, I find it increasingly important to focus on enjoying every season of life as it comes. By season I mean both the literal seasons of winter, spring, summer, & fall as well as the metaphorical seasons of college, young adulthood, parenthood, etc. It’s so easy for me as a young married woman with a good career to feel like I have to think ahead to becoming a mom or going back to school or just achieving “the next big thing” in life. There is of course nothing wrong with any of those things, but I am learning to find peace in just enjoying this stage of my life. I am also learning that the more I truly enjoy each stage of life as it comes I the less I look back on the past with regret. Yes, I miss college quite often, mostly because I miss seeing my friends on a daily basis, but I also realize that I’m a different person now & that stage of life no longer suits me. I enjoyed my college days to the fullest & thus I can look back on them with a smile knowing I have no regrets.

I’ve been seeing lots of posts on Facebook this week from people who can’t wait for fall to really get here. But today I’ve decided to enjoy the last few days or weeks of summer & when fall gets here I’ll greet it with loving arms. But until then I’m going to bask in the glorious sunshine. So often I also see my friends posting on Facebook about going back to school or having babies, & I sometimes feel the need to “catch up” lest I should “fall behind” in life. And as some of you may know I have been thinking a lot about becoming a mom lately, not any time soon but in the next couple of years. This is a huge step for me since just a year or two ago I was quite convinced I would never want to have children. But for right now I’ve decided to just enjoy this stage of life to the fullest while it lasts. When else in my life am I ever going to have the freedoms that I have right now coupled with the enthusiasm & energy of youth? The answer is never. Someday I’ll be a mom & someday I’ll go back to school, but I think I’ll enjoy both all the more because I didn’t rush into them.

So my challenge to you today is to enjoy whatever stage of life in you’re in right now. When you find yourself saying “I just can’t wait for this or that to happen,” take a deep breath & remember that just like the seasons of the year, no season of life lasts forever & they all have their own unique treasures.