We stepped inside the public bus and hurriedly inserted our reduced-fare youth tickets into the clunky scanner beside the sullen driver. As the vehicle began to pick up speed, we ambled down the rows searching for vacant seats, they were usually in the back. The bus was full of tired commuters heading to work that morning, the same as every weekday morning. It was always full of them whenever we boarded to and from school. But it didn’t matter if they were going to or from work, they always had the same weary expression. A weariness that seemed to coat everything with ash. As we walked down the length of the moving vehicle, I tried not to make eye contact with any of the somber adults. I kept my eyes darting across the vibrating, diesel-fumed interior to the windows on either side, milky with grime and condensation. Whenever I happened on cold eyes freezing into a glare, I would quickly look down at the dirt covered floor.

They hated us. How they hated us.

It was so obvious: lips pressed into thin lines, gazes fixed, faces unmoving, unmovable. Could we blame them? We were teenagers.

We were open books. We were naïve. We desperately wanted to be cool, to be taken seriously, to be seen. Youth might as well be a blazing sheath of stupidity.

This is one of my most poignant memories of being a teenager. Many people may look back on their teen years with nostalgia, remembering the keen pangs of new love, first heartbreaks, raw emotions of furtive explorations. Perhaps it was a time of invincibility, a ground of unchallenged assumptions once so delightfully firm. Perhaps it was a time of intense self-centeredness, genuine ignorance in all its glory. Perhaps it was time of wavering innocence and tender new longings. It was all those things for me too. But there was something else as well.

That something compels me to add “unconventional” to describe my childhood. My teen years were an especially dark time. It was then that I became more acquainted with forms of self-hatred, which I would struggle with continuously.

Now that I am an adult, back then feels like a lifetime ago. Ironically, despite my best efforts at empathy, I can’t help but feel a surge of resentment whenever I encounter teenagers myself. Teenagers loitering on sidewalks, rambling in cliques, puffing away theatrically on their vapes. Mock-fragile drama queens and goofy jocks with practiced drunk-lazy affectations, mini hipsters and reckless show-offs talking incessantly in half-jests, trying so hard not to care, crossing streets without looking, their rambunctious jeering and whooping echoing in courtyards and alleyways. I kind of hate them. But I love them too.

I’ll never be a size small again, or have all that time to waste, gossiping schadenfreude with fake friends on the latest break-ups, hook-ups and humiliations. I’ll never have that shiny whole lifetime again to dangle over the chasm of fresh compulsions, bad decisions, drugs or alcohol. I’ll never be that stupid and that innocent again. I’ll never want so badly to be an adult again.

alightcircleformandstars4mpbaecker

Perhaps it’s only natural for adults to hate teenagers, it’s like looking into a magic mirror at your younger self when you’re making all those bad decisions, the ones you’ll certainly regret for the rest of your life.

Or looking at your younger self before you learned the “hard” life lessons, the ones that supposedly made you smarter and wiser. That’s what I thought the other day at the pediatrician’s office with my kids when I watched a brazen teenager complaining to the receptionist that she had waited “a whole 45 minutes for the doctor!” Everyone else had been waiting about the same length too and she had spent the time playing loud games on her smart phone, not bored out of her mind staring at the wall. The receptionist eyed her wearily, her frown deepening. “Back in my day, young lady, I would be lucky if I had to wait only 45 minutes! If there are a lot of people to wait behind, you’ll have to wait your turn like everyone else!” The lecture ran its course unuttered behind the glares of the adults. No doubt, by the time she grows up, the wait time will be nonexistent, and she will find herself glaring at a spoiled teenager for complaining about having to visit the doctor at all, instead of being diagnosed by an app.

It’s one thing to be occasionally confronted with hostile adults as a teenager, rebelling against them like any cool punk. It’s another thing to know that hostility well, to be able to predict it and internalize it. My devout Catholic parents, likely to make up for their own reckless and excessive youth, believed it was their sole duty to expose the many shameless vanities within me and in the world at large. They urged me to contemplate death, the afterlife and the ramifications of my behavior every moment I could. A teenager who was proud, who talked back and challenged authority was the biggest waste and ingrate of all. The ideal teenager was humble, quiet, and respectful; they did what they were told.

There were so many strong emotions surging and conflicting in me growing up. Although my parents loved me and had good intentions—they were better suited to prepare me for death than for life. My life felt prematurely over. As a teenager, I had no idea how to be. Every time I tried to please my parents, my friends made fun of me for being so nerdy and timid. Being ridiculed as a “dork” by my peers was much more painful than disappointing my distant and solidly uncool parents. Every time I thought I found an acceptable way to be, a tiny candle I could light in an unbearably dark and damp room, someone found a way to snuff it out.

When I saw the recent news of the teenage survivors of the Parkland massacre bravely speaking out in support of tighter gun control, I felt my heart swelling with pride and pain for these kids. They had lived through unspeakable horror, hiding for their lives in closets and locked classrooms. Even as they anxiously awaited safety or death, they had the wisdom to foresee how the mass shooting would play out in the country—that it would result in inaction and complacency, like the many, many terrible times before:

“I don’t really think there’s anything new to say, but there shouldn’t have to be,” an unnamed student said while she was hiding from the shooter, “Because if you looked around this closet and saw everyone just hiding together, you would know that this shouldn’t be happening anymore, and that it doesn’t deserve to happen to anyone.”(source)

As the teenagers continue to rally and speak out against gun violence, I will gladly support them, but I also can’t help hearing the stern voices of adults who once told a younger me to “stop being so dramatic”. Adults so quick to put kids “in their place” for their so-called lack of experience, knowledge, their idealism and naiveté. Adults so quick to sully the strong emotions and voices of teenagers with accusations of vanity, self-interest, theatrics or being easily influenced or coached. These teenage survivors can’t even make an appearance without being coated with the ash of corruption or intrigue cynical adults have come to know so well. There is nothing new to this kind of dismissal and silencing of the young. It seems as ingrained in us as surely as a brutal initiation into adulthood and its privileges: to have the power, to know better, to be respected.

Teenagers may not have the experience of adults, they have what everyone else has: One life, a life full of possibilities, emotions, complexity. A life worth fighting for. A life worth living. A life worth cherishing. But they have one more precious thing, something beautiful and crucial, tragically missing in many adults: hope.

alightcircleformandstars1mpbaecker

Text and images by M.P. Baecker © 2018

36 thoughts on “An Unburdened Childhood

  1. Imagine if that rebellious spirt was welcomed and heard in teenagers more often. Maybe waiting 45 minutes for a doctor is a long time and only accepted by adults because of conditioning. Keeping people well is not always a government’s priority. She might have a point😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a great point! We’ve been conditioned to accept everything as intractable and “normal” when it most often isn’t! There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a teenager speaking his/her mind reasonably like that teenager at the doctor’s office. I bet if we listen to them a lot more instead of judging we could improve everything! Thanks for your wonderful insight!

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  2. Wow, great essay. I was right with you the whole way through, and I love how you tied everything together. I think the resentment we feel toward the young has a lot to do with hating how naive and vulnerable we were back then, with some jealousy thrown in for having grown old and losing so much of our innocence. That said, I would never want to go back. Those were dreadful days (that led to even more dreadful days) my 20s, but there is a lot to miss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I am so happy that you liked it!
      I am totally with you on all that! On that resentment, the bits of jealousy and the memories mix to form an unpleasant emotional cocktail!
      I definitely don’t want to go back to that time! Sometimes I wonder if I was actually more miserable in my 20’s! Both of those times are good candidates for low points in my life. What’s particularly awful is when I look at photos of myself from back then, I am surprised by how good I looked, how happy I seemed, it’s like looking at another person, but it definitely wasn’t a reflection of how I felt inside. It might as well be another lifetime ago! (thankfully)

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  3. Whether in 1848 or 1968 or 2018, when the rage and idealism of youth cannot be dismissed, transformations follow. The contrast between LaPierre and the Parkland survivors cannot be dismissed. (I also liked the sharp characterizations of high school hall-fauna.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment is so smart and spot on! Thank you!
      I’m really hoping that kids growing up now don’t have to worry about these terrible things happening when they go to school or anywhere else for that matter. My generation grew up idealizing the 60’s, you make a great point, this power of youth to change seems to be happening again. I’m with them!

      The “hall-fauna” was surprisingly fun to describe, I was pleasantly surprised that the descriptions (long held-back) seemed to flow out so easily and naturally, I didn’t even need to edit that part! Maybe I should write about teenagers more often!

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  4. Teenage years are as a rule accompanied by pain, suffering, bullying, insecurities. You name it….I can’t say either of these really applied to me. Maybe all the pain I was witnessing outside made me more self-conscious, confident and courageous. Who knows?!
    Stupid, innocent and hopeful, huh. How wonderful is that. How on earth have I become so smart and hopeless? Ah, right, I grew up. Damn.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is wonderful in so many ways. One of the aspects of this blogging universe that renders me stupid with glee most often is how I can open my email, follow a link to a blog and constantly, daily, be struck with the same thought, “Holy cow! We are all so much more alike than I thought!”

    I was fifteen – a sophomore in high school – when Columbine happened. This was the late 90s in rural Northern California (where I live). Life was pretty good. What I remember most about my teenage years, in hindsight, is having the freedom and safety to explore the world of ideas and spend the majority of my time rebelling against the system in my own ways with the support of the adults around me. I remember having teachers and parents and mentors who took the time to engage and challenge assumptions. I don’t remember – probably because I was too narcissistic at that time and given my environment it wasn’t as necessary for me to be cognizant of it – seeing that deadened and beat-down look in the eyes of the adults around me. I’m positive it was there, and I often wonder if my friends’ kids are aware of it in me and their moms and dads.

    With absolutely no ode to the dramatic, I distinctly remember a shift in the dynamics of life as the events of that April day unfolded. It was a watershed moment in history. I was one of the “weird” kids who wore black and listened to metal music and didn’t play sports and did all of the other things that got you noticed after Columbine. That was all fine. Part of the process. I get it. What stands out the most was that event propelled me out of childhood. The wonder and magic of youth was gone. There was now the ever present feeling that at some point instead of having to deal with tame and banal ridicule and embarrassments of growing up I was going to have to stare down the barrel of a firearm, or shield myself from the shrapnel of a homemade bomb.

    So, when I see folks in the media or our culture making completely irrational and absurd comments about these children who have the courage to stand up and fight for what they believe is right, it disgusts me. My first reaction is, just because you have succumbed to a reality for which you are miserable, how dare you try to snuff out the passion hope of these children. These are people who have gone through a trauma many of us cannot even comprehend. How dare you insult them as they grieve and fight for their dead friends.

    Your writing is such and inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to comment and join the conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for your incredible comment! I absolutely love that you shared your teenage experience here! It seems that you had a nice childhood (though, I am sad that it was up to a certain point). An unburdened childhood is something I aspire to give to my children.

      The right mentors and supportive adults truly make a difference in a child’s life, even when it’s not immediately obvious or grand, it stays with you for a lifetime. I debated whether to go into detail about my problems in this particular story, (I might write about it later on) but I did find the help that I needed from some adults, a teacher and a school therapist who were genuinely concerned and cared about me. Without their help, I don’t think I would be who I am today.

      I must admit that my perspective at the time was skewed severely because of my unconventional upbringing. I probably wouldn’t have focused so intensely on the negativity from adults or from the world in general if my parents didn’t emphasize it so much and push self-criticism on me. Some kids are oblivious to it, my best friend at the time was a very confident, strong-minded girl, one of the “cool” trendsetter kids, and she didn’t care about the adult’s reactions at all, it didn’t bother her in the least, she just kept talking loud in the bus the whole time😂!

      Every time I see a school shooting in the news, my heart aches, I feel my hope ebbing. It’s a possibility I never thought about growing up either. You are so right, after Columbine, things changed. Even here in Germany, there have been several school shootings in the early 2000’s until they toughened the gun laws. I bring my kids to preschool every weekday, I am sad that every child and parent has to contend with this possibility, this beyond horrific possibility in this day and age. We have to do something, try something new, because the same old ways led to this happening.

      I wasn’t originally going to write about the Parkland teenagers, gun control or school shootings, but I can’t ignore it. I can imagine many people don’t want to read this here, least of all from me, to get yet another opinion about it! It’s a controversial issue and I don’t want to use the tragedy for my own ends. I have deep respect for these brave kids. Like you, I reel at the ludicrous people who try to diminish them.

      But I couldn’t help noticing how brutal that transition into adulthood often is, how self-negating it can be. How an instantaneous act of cruelty can leave its trauma, its mark permanently. And how an accumulation of cruelties can also shape someone severely and permanently. Both of these things result in the end of childhood. It’s so surprising and beautiful that these kids have grown wiser and braver than many grown-ups!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am SO glad you wrote about it. I wish every blogger who has the wisdom to realize we need new solutions to this growing problem would write something about it. The conversation must not stop.

        Everything changed after Columbine, I keep hearing, but nothing ever changed. Here we are, in that same place again, being told this is not the time to talk about it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about it until the first thing on everyone’s mind, every time they look at a politician or walk into a voting booth, is “did this person do enough to control the ridiculous gun problem in our country.”

        It’s worth fighting for. I will never, ever, ever not talk about it again.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Your writing never fails to bring me to tears, and perhaps this piece most of all. Your language leaves me in awe and takes me into places within my own heart. Your ability to transport and to transform is exquisite. I felt the heaviness of your teenage experience. I felt sadness in learning that you were taught to think more about death than about life. These things shape us, but we choose what do do with those shapes as we get older, and you are amazing. My teenage years were consumed by illness and death and my life was irreparably changed at having to deal with so much at such a young age, but I never had to hide from a gunman or fear for my life. I didn’t feel unsafe at school (for the most part) or at the movies. I also often feel annoyed with what I perceive as a total lack of consideration, from teenagers, but I am beyond impressed with the brave and bold responses I see from so many teenagers today, in the wake of things I couldn’t imagine. You are an extraordinary talent and an extraordinary person who I have come to admire in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your heart and your brilliance.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dear Susan, It means so much to me that I can move you, someone as talented as yourself! Thank you for your beautiful comment! I treasure it!

      We have something in common in those years. I didn’t mention it in the story, but my father passed away from a heart attack suddenly when I was seventeen. Like you, my life was irreparably changed at having to deal with this at a young age. It was a very difficult time for me and it’s still so hard for me to talk about in detail now. I just touched on my unconventional upbringing briefly here, but both of these things (my upbringing and my father’s death) cut my childhood short.

      I used to be such a bitter and angry young woman, but I’ve come to accept what happened to me with time. I realize now that I have been so lucky, especially that these things didn’t drag me down permanently, and my life has largely been so sheltered and blessed. Just a few generations before, kids had to fight in wars, lost whole families to hunger or illness, had to work in farms or factories. And yet, no one had to think of a mass shooter at a school or a terrorist in any social gathering or arena. This can’t be the new normal. These kids give me great hope!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’d never want to be a teenager again, feeling so tightly wrapped in my own skin and unsure of who and how and why I should be.

    I am so proud of today’s teenage activists – all those bright, brave, brilliant teenagers saying ‘no, this is not good enough any more.’ and I hate them too, because I was never that sure or that brave.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for your comment! I am with you 100%! I don’t want to go back to that time again! I felt much like you did. Strangely, I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin until much later, after I had my 2 kids!

      Those teenagers made such an impact on me. I was originally going to publish something else, but somehow it felt so trivial, a distraction from something vital. I couldn’t not talk about these teenagers! I don’t think I would be that brave either, when I saw them marching, I was really worried for their safety. But then again, they’ve experienced something so terrible, so life altering and survived stronger than ever. They are truly an inspiration!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. You put me back in the skin of the teenager that I once was. Strangely, you made it possible with the powerful imagery of your walking into the bus smacking of diesel and grime, full of commuters with weary and gelid expressions. Perhaps I identified with the mutual lack of trust between the teens and the adults, the rattlingly dismissive attitude of the latter.

    Having transformed me, you made me feel the bewilderment and desperation of the teenager movement of Florida. Indeed, they have this rare commodity called ‘hope’ intact in their veins, shimmering, pulsating with the primordial core, lost to the adults for ever.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Your comment blew me away with its depth and richness. I need a full day (at least) to process your incredible words! I cherish your skill with language and imagery so much!! It means a lot to me that I could transport you to this precarious place and time!

      It’s strange perhaps, how negative my teenage years were for me, I know that many people had positive experiences and supportive adults at that age. Somehow the combination of my parents fixation on religion and humility, their inflexibility made me equate adulthood with corruption, contradictorily, I desired to be an adult myself to have freedom and independence! I had wished that I would survive that transformation into adulthood uncorrupted, with my hope intact!

      Maybe it’s a process of unraveling, unlearning and detoxifying that staleness of the years, that normalization of horrid things and banalities, that hopelessness and apathy. I think that’s one of the most incredible, most valuable things artists and writers can aspire to do: to destabilize the normal, to turn perception on its head, to bring magic back into the world!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Although we have, all of us, lost that naive hope of our youth, the experiences we have had, the lessons we have learned, the knowledge we have gained, we can turn into a new hope. A sophisticated, nuanced and mature hope. We have seen the ugly face of the world, but we have seen its beauty, too. We know that the only things stopping the beauty from wildly overtaking the landscape of humanity are the deviously cultivated patches of ignorance. And we know why. For the greed of the few, ignorance is spread.

        But here we are. This growing community of … can I say? … enlightened individuals, who have found one another in the dark, across those wide patches, and we spread the word of a better human race. A nobler species we can become.

        Hope is alive, my friends, alive in you and I. We do not need our youth to join the young in this fight. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow! Your words are so magnificent Tom! I can’t stop thinking about that line: “A sophisticated, nuanced and mature hope.” It beautifully captures both the wise experience of adulthood and the raw openness of childhood. I aspire to be that, and capture that, such a precious, precarious balancing act in my writing! We shouldn’t let go of either trait or favor one over the other, but keep them both in balance.

          I am so happy to find a community of such smart, thoughtful kind people here! From what I’ve been lucky to learn here, there is always hope!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Balance is absolutely the key! As mature individuals we must understand the true world we live in, we have no choice. But we must not let that knowledge break us! In fact, it must encourage us. As hard as it may be, we must take what we know to be the reality of this cold world, and the hope we have for a better one, and build our bridge from there to here. As easy as it would be to give in to complete folly, or complete despair, we must give in to neither. There is always hope! Gosh, just these last two weeks, we have seen monumental changes that I would say were unimaginable before the tragedy. If that doesn’t give us inspiration, nothing will!

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  9. One of my greatest frustrations as a teenager was the assumption, by some people older than me, that I had no life experience and didn’t really know anything because of my age. I wish that had been true. I would’ve loved a bit of innocence and naivety. There are people who can live a sheltered life to old age and experience only a fraction of what some other people experience by the age of 21.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are absolutely right! That’s an excellent point!

      Age is not necessarily an indicator of life experience, suffering, maturity or wisdom for that matter, (just look at the current President of the USA😄)

      I also know adults who live sheltered lives. My own life is sheltered compared to a teen living in an abusive home, or in a war torn country. What frustrates, angers, offends me enormously are the adults who continue to live sheltered lives on purpose because they are afraid of change, the ones who would rather put their own comfort and the status quo above making things better for more people or saving lives.

      Thank you so much for sharing! (Now I’m thinking of ways I could put what I just wrote in this essay or write about it in a new one.)

      Liked by 2 people

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