Whose Childhood?

In his book, “A Lifetime Ago: Before the Death of Childhood,” Jeremy Joyell takes us back to what he calls “a simpler time,” growing up in Waterbury Connecticut. He recounts in nostalgic detail his childhood and early school experiences at Bunker Hill Grammar School. In the process, he gives us a glimpse of childhood in anytown USA. I say “any” town, because in reading Joyell’s book, what becomes clear is the isolation of “childhood” from the adult world. As children, we don’t bear the responsibility to pay the bills, to work at jobs we dislike, or to worry about the bigger issues in life, such as safety and war. When one of those issues, “of growing concern to the adult world quite unexpectedly stuck its ugly nose in the door of Miss Connor’s class,” Joyell gives us a glimpse of how blissful the isolation of childhood can be. As he describes Miss Connor’s frustration at trying to educate her class about the dangers of the BOMB, Joyell captures the marvelous resilience of the young mind. Even after Miss Connor breaks down in tears, Joyell describes how, once she recovered and dropped the subject, “We moved on to other matters of the moment, our emotional balance and our protected, sheltered classroom restored.” Joyell offers his book as a “Cautionary Memoir” about the loss of childhood for today’s youth in a world that is so much more complex and technically intrusive. But any book club would be well served reading Joyell’s book and then examining the issue in greater detail. What emerges, for me at least, is that it is not the childhood of today’s youth that is in peril of dying, but every person’s childhood, of every age. At some point, we simply emerge from our protected existence and enter into one that demands more of our time and attention. In the process, perhaps childhood does die, but only in order to be replaced by our broader adult view of the world. Like Peter Pan’s Wendy, once that awareness takes over, we can never go back to the blissful ignorance of youth. But that doesn’t mean that adulthood need be bleak or remorseful. The real challenge is to see the world as it is, with all it faults and failings, along with all of its promises and opportunities, and to realize that the children of today are probably as ignorant in their own way of our world, as our, and every pervious generation was, of the one that came before. So take a few hours to read this book and step back in time. In the process, you might just regain a few precious moments of your own youth, before the death of childhood.

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