My grade 4’s and 5’s no longer believe in unicorns. They are at the age where the world is starting to tell them that they have to behave like an adult. And it makes me sad to witness that slowly, they are losing their ability to imagine, the sheer simplicity and passion and fun in the wonders of imagining.
A few days ago, my grade 4 student said to me, “I’m honestly kind of shocked that you still have so much imagination at your age.” Right after I told her my preferred means of transportation is a house-sized hamster. To her, it was “kindergarten stuff”, and as an adult, I wasn’t supposed to do that. I wasn’t supposed to have an imagination.
I told her, “Everyday, I put in effort to make sure I never stop imagining.”
She was, again, shocked. “But why? You’re supposed to be an adult.”
And I thought to myself, sadly: Yes, I am an adult. I am an adult with an imagination. I am an adult who isn’t ashamed of her inner child, who no longer feels embarrassed about the fact that the pixels in her eyes never settle. I am an adult who chooses to be who I am and I am an adult who loves myself for the way I am.
“Weirdo,” she called me.
“You should never stop imagining,” I said. She was no longer listening.
This really hurts me, because it took me years to find my inner child again. It took me years to realize that I was losing her, and it took me a great leap of faith and courage to find her , to ask her to come back, to tell her that I wasn’t ever going to let her out of my sight again.
But I see it. These children. They are surrounded by parents, teachers, social values–an environment that puts them into rigid shapes and boxes, a structural realignment of your precious personhood towards a standardized model of maturity. Unicorns are childish. It’s impolite to laugh loudly or crack silly jokes. It’s self-conceited to call yourself the kings and queens of the world. It’s not okay to be like a kid anymore. Start acting like an adult. I see them lose touch with their creativity. I see their thinking process becoming more and more stunted. I see them sit up straighter, the muscles on their faces settle and consolidate into something more serious. I see them losing their imagination. I see them becoming someone they’re not.
And it hurts me. It makes me want to scream, You’re throwing it all away! This isn’t what it means to be an adult!
Yes, I get it. The pressure to become a mature, responsible adult figure. I know it all too well. When I was growing up, I was always expected to be the older sister, the role model, the “grown-up” while my little brother was the brat of the house. When I was older and if I acted slightly “less than my age”, I was judged for it. I remember I screamed excitedly at the cuteness of a spinach salad (folded and arranged into the shape of a cube) at a Japanese restaurant one time, and a friend of mine spat harshly, “Kim, you’re so childish.”
I remember when I was in university and living in dorm, I told my roommate about my first relationship experience. I told her I fell in love with love, and I was young and didn’t know better. She asked me what grade was I when I got into my first relationship, I told her I was grade 12.
“Oh, I thought you would be like, grade 9 or middle school or something…”
Really? You were grade 12 and you were immature and childish enough to still be in a relationship like that?
I honestly wanted to scream.
So what? So what if I danced and laughed and “freaked out” like a kid when I saw how cute that spinach cube was? So what if I was grade 12 when I entered my first relationship? What do you know about me?
I squealed at the spinach cube because I appreciated the little interesting surprises in life.
I entered my first relationship in grade 12, and I was inexperienced. I blamed myself a lot for being stupid and soft and passive, but many things were a reflection of deeper relationship issues that did not pertain to me being “immature”. But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t able to defend myself against the judgement of others. I didn’t love myself enough to not care about the judgement of others.
Back then, I was unaware. I let the world slap my inner child in the face. Repeatedly. I let myself slap her in the face. Why can’t you be quirky…but like, cool? Could you stop watching these cartoons and animes? Could you stop buying these cute Asian stationary? Could you stop liking Hello Kitty? Could you stop talking about your mom and dad like you’re still a freaking baby?
Could you stop being yourself?
How my inner child cried. She cried silently, but she refused to leave. One day. One day she would get through to me, because she knew deep down inside I never wanted to stop being a child. I wanted to express freely, creatively, spontaneously. I wanted to have fun, be a goofball, talk about silly things. I wanted to be quirky, to shine with the entire spectrum of my personality and not just the parts of it that were socially acceptable. I wanted to be whole.
My inner child. She wanted to come back into the picture. She wanted to be part of the spectrum and not be left out. And for years, she endured the oppression and repression of her wondrous existence. She listened to all of my self-deprecating bullshit about what it meant to be a grown-up, but she kept hanging on. Stubbornly, she waited. She waited for me to love her, even though I hated her and wanted to stay away from her. She waited for me to love her again, fully, unapologetically. She waited for me even though I was a complete and total jerk, loved me when I didn’t love myself enough, when I wasn’t brave enough to show the world that: this is who I am. This is who we are. Take her as she is, because she is mine. She is part of me. She deserves my love and deserves the sun and the endless blue sky.
She waited for me, and I was so glad when I found her. I found her backed up in a little corner, the colours of her hair strained and paling, hugging her knees and rocking herself. When I found her, she wast trembling, but there was a look of determination in her eyes. She told me she never lost faith in me, and that she would never leave me. Throughout my life, I was scared of being judged as immature, childish, silly, goofy, or stupid. I was ashamed of my inner child: somehow it wasn’t appropriate for a 25 year old to still be in love with Disney, to marvel at the little things in the world with wide googly eyes. It wasn’t appropriate to be wanderstruck and to show it, to pretend to prowl open the automatic doors with magical powers, or to doodle cats and donuts on a piece of paper. I walked to her. I told her I was sorry, and I was going to show her the way. I wanted to tell her how much I missed her, and I wanted to thank her for being with me still after all these self-abasing years. I wanted to take her hand and lead her out of this distorted prison. I wanted to tell her to run free in a field of golden grass, to stare up at the free summer sky–she can dance, laugh, and shriek all she likes. I wanted to tell her that I love her more than anything in the world.But before I could say a word, she took my hand knowingly. As I broke down into tears, utterly inconsolable, she took my hand. She took me into her arms, her mushroom haircut reminding me of my awkward days dancing to folk music with my classmates in kindergarten back in Taiwan. Back in kindergarten, I was quiet and introverted and shy, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I looked like I was having a seizure heaving my limbs jaggedly back and forth. I didn’t care that I didn’t have much dance in my DNA. I heard the music and I started moving. I didn’t care. I was happiness and love and dreams and everything I wanted to be in that very moment.
I sobbed quietly, joyously. My inner child and I cuddled. We held hands. She told me she had no tissues available for the gooey mess on my face. I smiled, squeezing out more tears from the corners of my eye.
I love you. You are my magic. My leopard-spotted courage and my rainbow-coloured thunder bolt. You are the dreams that never end. You are the flesh on the body of my soul and you are my child. My precious inner child.
And I love you. I love you so much.
I love you more than anything in the world.