To my right is a picture frame filled with old photos of me as a kid. In one I’m holding my little brother, each of us equally bedecked in some hideous early-80s fashion, and we’re smiling with all of the joy and mischief of childhood. In another, I’m turned out in a strange looking suit/tux/waitstaff ensemble, holding a satin pillow in front of a church altar, the literal picture of an elfish ring bearer. In still another I’m a slack-jawed infant with powder blue booties stretched over chubby feet. And just above that picture is one in which I sport a shaggy blond bowl cut, 4-inch shirt lapels, and a brown suede sportcoat.
Can you say “child of the 70s”?
I’m looking at these old photos of myself, and I’m thinking about the distances I’ve covered as a human being. The roads I’ve traveled; the choices I’ve made; the changes I’ve endured in order to become myself.
It’s not everyday that you get a quiet household and relatively few demands on your time, so when you do, it’s a lot easier for the mind to reflect like this. So I find myself looking at myself and wondering, “Was I really happy then?”
It’s a stupid question. I mean, why wouldn’t I have been happy then? I had a great home, good friends, a wonderful family, and I was yet to be soiled by so much of adulthood. I realize not everyone has an idyllic childhood, but I certainly did, and the thought suddenly occurs to me that, at least in my case, unhappiness is an adult invention.
I mean, why should I ever be unhappy? Life has thrown me a few curveballs, yes, but for the most part I live a life that 90% of the world would love to lead; I have a well-built house with power and running water, two working cars, two healthy kids, a smoking hot wife, and a job that allows me to read, write, think and teach for a living.
So occasionally I don’t get my way. Big deal. Happened a lot when I was kid (usually in the toy aisle of the local K-Mart or Richway–back when Snellville wasn’t so cosmopolitan) and though the disappointment was palpable, it was short-lived. Ten seconds, maybe? A minute or two if I really turned on the pout.
But as an adult, let something not go my way and I can become apoplectic; let multiple things not go my way in one day and I become the Incredible Hulk with a toothache and a hemmorhoid.
I was reminded of this on Tuesday; the pollen was making my head into a pulsating glob of mucus, the Internet was on the fritz so I hadn’t gotten any work done that day, I was tired, I skipped lunch so my stomach was growling, and I just generally felt like the world owed me big time. Lugging that attitude around the kitchen, I accidentally knocked something over – a little glass globe that my son had made at school that was filled with some dirt and green rocks – and heard the tinkling of glass.
I’d broken my son’s trinket. And dirt had fallen all over the floor and counter. And now there was glass everywhere.
The bile rose so fast you’d have thought it was on Cialis. I snatched that little globe off the counter and stalked over to the garbage can. I jerked the lid on the can up and raised the damaged globe high over my head and, squeezing it so as to maintain better control, threw it into the trash can as hard as I could, getting little slivers of glass in my fingers as a momento of the occasion.
And when I looked up, there was my daughter, her face ashen. Suddenly, tears poured from the corners of her eye as her lip trembled and she asked in a hushed voice: “Are you mad at me too, daddy?”
I was so outraged her fear didn’t even register. It took my wife saying, “No, Ella. Daddy isn’t mad at you, but he’s not setting a good example right now. He’s letting his anger get the best of him.”
Conviction, thy name is parenthood.
Thinking about it now, it’s so obviously moronic that I feel dumb even typing about it. But at the time, my anger seemed justified. The universe had slighted me. Things weren’t going my way. Who wouldn’t be angry?
I’ll tell you who wouldn’t have been angry: seven year-old me. He would’ve just gone on with his day and played G.I. Joe in the backyard. Or four year-old me; he would’ve just gone to his room and looked at books and doodled for a couple of hours. Or even ten year-old me; he would’ve gone outside and shot baskets until darkness fell or his fingers fell off, whichever came first.
Looking at the pictures of me as a kid, and maybe even more, looking at the living pictures that are my kids, I’m reminded that there was once a time when I didn’t view life so miserably. And I long to get back there.
I’ve been humming that Beatles song all day: “Get back…get back…get back to where you once belonged…”
Maybe it’s time I made that trip in my heart.