2018-02-01 / Family Matters

Recapturing Childhood

An Interview with My 11-Year-Old Daughter
David Rockower

Sometimes I wonder how accurately I remember my own childhood. I can recall birthday parties, favorite vacations, fights with neighbors, and the loss of my dog. The feelings associated with those memories are fleeting, opaque, filtered by time. Occasionally, a scent will trigger a memory so vivid that I am teleported to a specific time and place. In that moment, I can hear the Southern accent of my childhood friend in Myrtle Beach, smell the leather of my Little League baseball mitt, and feel the steering wheel of my first car.

Last fall, I was raking leaves and my daughter dared me to jump in the pile. I did, and when I hit bottom, she shoved a handful of leaves in my face. The smell and taste took me back to West Fairmount Avenue, where my neighborhood friends and I made leaf piles so large I was afraid of drowning inside them. We would leap from a rope swing and, with a quiet crunch, disappear into the cloud of foliage. I lay in a small pile, soaking in the joy and wonder I felt as a child. This doesn’t happen often enough, and I’d like to recapture that freedom.

After brushing off the leaves and seeing how pleased Maddie was that I’d joined in, I felt moved to ask her some questions. Did she find joy the same way I did as a child? Did she grapple with similar fears? I’ve wondered, but I’ve rarely asked. So we sat down to talk.

Can you share a time recently when you felt really happy?

When my friend and I had a sleepover. I was so excited, because we planned ahead to make a craft and build a fort. When I get that excited, I feel like I could curl up in a little ball and squeal.

Is there anything you find particularly difficult about being 11?

Sometimes I worry about making a bad decision when I’m older. I want to make the right decisions for my family — if I have one. I don’t want to feed my family Doritos every night for dinner. I want to take care of myself and others in a good way.

Do you ever feel like adults talk down to you?

When I don’t understand something in school, I feel like adults talk down to me. It makes me feel like I don’t know very much. It’s not just in school; it’s also when I share an opinion and people shake their heads. But my opinion might be better than some adults’ or other kids’, even if they doubt me. I feel like a little kid, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be mature too. I can be a kid and be mature at the same time.

Who do you look up to and why?

I look up to my brother, even though we pick on each other with normal brother and sister stuff. When I’m upset, he knows how to talk to me. He understands what I’m going through, so it’s easier to talk to him than talking to an adult. He knows what to say to me, gives me good suggestions, and cheers me up.

What advice do you have for other kids your age?

Have fun and make sure you’re nice to people. Try to find something you truly love to do that makes you happy. If you do what you love, you’ll find others who have those same interests, and you’ll find true friends.

Twenty-five years from now, what do you think you’ll remember about being 11?

I guess I can only say what I hope I’ll remember. Who knows how much I’ll forget. I hope I remember my sleepovers with friends, Friday night movie nights with my family, riding my bike around town. I bet I’ll remember when my guinea pig got lost in the woods overnight. Oh, and when our dog ate the hermit crab... That was gross.

At times, during our conversation, I felt as though Maddie were a small adult. Other times, she reminded me of her 6-year-old self. I think that’s what she was trying to tell me — that she embraces all the euphoria of childhood, but at the same time she wants her voice to be heard and valued. I know I can learn from her spontaneity, her open mind and her wide lens that sees what I’ve forgotten.

After our talk, I told her I was proud of her.

“For what?” she asked. “I just answered your questions.”

“For listening so well, for sharing so freely, and for being an inspiration. You’re wise for an 11-year-old.”

“Why, thank you, Dad. Now can we go jump in the leaves again?” •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 13-year-old son, a spirited 11-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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