Monday, July 12, 2010

Childhood Favorites Post #5: On Growing Up

Sometimes I call it oldest child syndrome.  Sometimes it's Type-A.  Sometimes it's overly organized. Whatever name I give it, and despite the creative side of my brain, I have a tendency to want everything to be orderly and as it should be, whether it is my unit binders on my desk at school, my belongings in my apartment, or my personal life.

It has been a long, slow, frustrating journey to realize that I don't have the ability to get everything right, no matter how hard I try.  What used to feel like personal failure, I am finally learning at 29 is an unavoidable part of human life.  One of the basic tenets of my faith is that we are all fallible, and when I remember this, it makes it so much easier for me to breathe. It is amazing to me to read books intended for children in elementary school and find so much of myself in them. I can't help but wonder if everyone else got this down at age 10? Ha.

In Freak the the Mighty, Kevin made a dictionary for Max for Christmas, filled with all sorts of clever and poignant definitions, based on the way he saw the world. The one that stood out to me the most was his entry for human: "an improbable, imperfect creature."

In my crazy rush to finish all of my childhood favorites before leaving New York for the summer, I began to see all kinds of crazy connections between them all.  Through the character of Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, I watched her grapple with the humanity's imperfection as she realizes that her father (who is lost in time and she goes to rescue) cannot solve everything that goes wrong, and in turn, she begins to grow up.

"Her father had been found but he had not made everything all right  Instead, everything was worse than ever, and her adored father was bearded and thin and white and not omnipotent after all. Not matter what happened next, things could be no more terrible or frightening than they already were."

"Disappointment was as dark and corrosive in her as the Black Thing.  The ugly words tumbled from her cold lips even as she herself could not believe that it was to her father, her beloved, longed-for father, that she was talking to in this way...She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. Everything kept getting worse and worse. If the long search for her father was ended, and he wasn't able to overcome all their difficulties, there was nothing to guarantee that it would all come out right in the end.  There was nothing left to hope for.  She teetered on the seesaw of love and hate."

I love that Madeleine L'Engle lets Meg dwell in this feeling for a while, as these realizations and feelings are the epitome of coming of age.  I wonder if this goes over the heads of first time readers of the book.  I am anxious to talk with my students in the fall about the re-reading experience and how they connect with the emotional changes that Meg experiences.

I appreciate the way that L'Engle characterizes the father as well.  He is fully aware of his own limitations and I imagine that as a parent it must be difficult (and yet exciting) to watch his daughter realize this as well: "My daughter, I am a human being, and a very fallible one."

Meg captures it all when she says: "I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be easy and simple...So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault...because I was scared, and I didn't want to have to do anything myself."  As I read this I smiled at this enormous revelation of hers and the fact that I myself fall into the trap of wanting everything to be easy and simple, and forgetting the great beauty--and the essence of humanity--that can emerge from the struggles.

Though, that is not to say that I don't hurt with nostalgia from time to time about the safety of my childhood. Sigh.

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