Monday, April 18, 2011

Moments That Chip Away At Childhood Innocence

Not all memories from childhood are happy ones. One of my own sad experiences happened when I was a very young child during an outing that I was at with my family and some friends of ours. We had gone on a picnic along some river or lake (can’t quite remember the details), and I remember strolling near the edge, picking up rocks to toss into the water and enjoying the setting of the sun.

As I walked along, I spotted a little frog nearby sitting on the ground, his cheeks puffing up with each little croaking sound he made. Peaceful, content and obviously feeling safe, he just sat there singing his little heart out as I watched him. I thought he was absolutely adorable, and wished I could take him home with me. I would make him my pet and take good care of him if only I could be allowed to keep him. Of course, I knew it was just wishful thinking – my parents would never allow such a thing - but my imagination allowed me to pretend that he was already in my room. I was a little girl enjoying a magical moment on what had so far proven to be a glorious day.

But the magic was soon replaced by grisliness. Along came some teenagers (two boys and two girls) smoking cigarettes, all of them loud and vulgar. They were pushing each other around playfully, swearing and being noisy, completely oblivious to my presence, or just indifferent to it. They stopped in front of me, between me and the little frog still singing away, and one of them pointed towards it and they all started to laugh. I didn’t understand what they were saying because they were speaking French, a language that I never mastered, but their body language and the looks on their faces made me feel very uncomfortable. I knew instinctively that something was terribly wrong.

My instincts were soon proven right when one of the boys scooped down and picked up the frog. He made faces at it and waved it around while the others laughed. The babbling continued and the chuckling intensified. Then he took the lit cigarette he was holding, shoved it into the frog’s mouth, placed the poor creature on the ground and kicked it far into the water. Hard. I felt my heart breaking into a million pieces as I listened to them laughing even harder, patting each other on the back, undeniably proud of themselves. Then one of the girls turned to look at me, noticing me for the first time, but dismissing me just as quickly. I was just a little kid after all, so my presence wasn’t pertinent. Had she taken a closer look, she would have seen the tears in my eyes.

They continued along, their rowdiness slowly fading away as the distance grew between us, and I just stood there for the longest time. I was shaken by what I’d seen, angry for having been unable to do something and completely grief-stricken. And I become conscious of something that every young child experiences at some point - the feeling of utter helplessness; the realization of how small I was, how many people are bigger and stronger than me and how little I could do during moments like these. I walked towards the water and braced myself for the mutilated body of the little frog. I scanned around the edge of the shoreline and as far into the water as I could. Nothing. I breathed a sigh of relief for not having to see what might have become of the poor creature. I was convinced that it was dying a slow and painful death and I didn’t want it to be my final image of it. It’s been almost 40 years and the whole entire memory is still vivid in my mind.

Of course, I never told anyone, not even the younger of my two older brothers who I was extremely close to. There was no point to it. I couldn’t change anything. It is a curious thing how children just resign themselves to things that they feel are beyond their control. That is exactly what I did – I resigned myself to the experience.

But despite my resilience, experiences like that day are much more profound than we realize. It’s those cruel and debilitating moments that start to chip away slowly at the innocence and wonderment that every child is born with. It’s moments like those that start to form the cynical shell that many of us develop as we move away from our childhood.

For every abysmal experience that a child is forced to witness, a sliver of faith in this world is peeled away until all that is left is a hard outer shell to protect the sensitive inner being. Slowly but surely, the innocence of childhood is left behind. That day I discovered that not every one in the world is kind and loving and gentle and compassionate. That day I discovered that the world can be a cold and cruel place.

3 comments:

  1. This was so disturbing that I just finished off the rest of the carrot cake I swore I wasn't going to touch today lol!! On a more serious note though, you are so right: everyone has these traumatic childhood experiences locked up inside us. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I have several of those rather harsh and traumatic memories as well, many of which have to do with witnessing cruelty by children. I find it amazing that some kids are kind and compassionate, and others are sadistic, no other word for it.

    I also find it odd - if the parents of those children saw that, what would they actually do? I'd be tempted to kill, but that's not really teaching compassion either. Gahk. I don't like our species very much....very difficult post. And universal.

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  3. Jane, nothing like a delicious carrot cake to find comfort in! LOL... Sadly, we all have moments like these in our childhood. I was very sensitive to these things from a very young age (always loved always; felt the need to protect them), so this was highly disturbing.

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    Tatiana, I'd be horrified and terrified if one of my kids did something like this. It would be very disturbing to discover a child without compassion. I don't know if all parents of sadistic children are aware that their children are being cruel like this; a lot of these kids hide their actions. And if the parents are aware, I would hope that they would do something. An act of cruelty to a helpless creature may lead to an act of cruelty to a fellow human being. Scary stuff.

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