Yesterday, I waxed poetic about literal and metaphorical bologna. In so doing, I assured you (and myself) that the lone package of lunch meat in our big and empty fridge was still good. Not good as in gastronomically delectable. No. Good as in it had not yet expired. Leave it to me to take this little mundane fact and run with it. The tiny black numbers indicating the freshness of my floppy meat got me thinking about something much bigger. (Shocker.)
It occurs to me that everything has an expiration date. Nothing lasts forever. No, I am not just talking about the edible items in our refrigerators. I am talking about everything. Nothing is immortal.
Calm down. I am not going to remind you of your lingering mortality. (Ooops. Just did.) My tiny agenda here is to talk about something else.
When does childhood expire? Is it a fixed date, an objective developmental milestone we all reach at the same chronological point like turning eighteen or twenty-one? Do we become adults when we leave home or get married or have a baby or lose a parent? Does childhood expire at different points for each of us depending on the idiosyncratic trajectories of our individual lives?
Here's my theory: Childhood expires over and over. In fits and starts. Or a bit more gradually. Personally, my childhood expired when I moved my things into a New Haven dorm room on a September day in 1996. And then when I had my first apartment. And when I said "Yes" and then "I Do." And then when I signed a birth certificate. And then when my Dad got sick. And left us. In each and every one of these moments, I said to myself: Whoa. I am not a kid anymore.
And then there are the much smaller moments. Like, say, being flanked by two tiny girls who giggle and shred bologna it into tiny pieces of confetti which they then rain down on their Mommy. In these moments, even when I get silly (oh and I do), even when I join that chorus of giggles (oh and I do), I say to myself: These creatures are mine. I am responsible for their lives. I am not a kid anymore.
When do you think childhood expires? Was there a particular day (or days) in your life where you were forced to grow up, when you realized with clarity that you weren't a kid anymore? Do you think childhood expires at different points for each of us? Are there never clear demarcations between youth and maturity? Do you think this is a matter of subjectivity, that we are as young as we feel or is there an objective aspect to all this?