September 09, 2010

Childhood and All That (MDIV 555)

Journal for September 7, 2010

Last week Tommy asked “How do we know we have buddhanature and what knows?” I’m going to skip that question for now as, firstly, the reading was over how faith develops during child and young adulthood and, secondly, I don’t know quite yet. It is something I will have to let stew a bit longer, but definitely a question I wish to return to.

I always find myself skeptical of researchers’ descriptions, either observatory or normative, of childhood development. I have strong memories from a very early age and often their observations and characterizations run contrary to my experience. When making normative statements as to what adults should or should not do in the raising of children, I often think “That would not/did not work with me.” My mother had a few such books on her shelves I scoffed my way through in elementary school. This being said, I must still give a lot of credit where credit is due for in some cases being spot on and also acknowledge that my memories of childhood are those of a child.

That being said, let’s start at the beginning. It was running through the academic community for some time that children are blank slates ready to be molded (if you’ll pardon the mixing of metaphor) into either good or bad people depending on their environment. This kind of thinking, if not stated outright, seems to underlie Fowler’s text. However, my mother, a source I hold far more reliable than Fowler, tells me that even as a very small baby, only a few months in age and certainly younger than Fowler’s eight or nine month first cognitive transition, I did not want to be held. I would scream and cry not until someone picked me up, but until someone put me down.

“Feed me and put me down! That was Monica,” Mom remembered.

“Even with you?” I asked.

“Even with me,” she confirmed. “Made your grandmothers very unhappy because they wanted to cuddle their first granddaughter, but you didn’t want any of that.”

Now scientists and researchers are beginning to believe children are born more formed or perhaps predisposed than previously thought. From a scientific perspective we might conclude that more seeds of the personality lay within the genes than previously believed. From an Eastern perspective we might blame infantile predispositions on the accumulated habituation of past lives. I’m inclined to give more credence to the former, but not to entirely dismiss the latter.

As a very young child I remember believing everyone knew everything I knew. Therefore, I became very frustrated when people didn’t understand me or what I was doing. I recall learning it was necessary to verbally explain my wants, needs, thoughts, and actions to others and being very annoyed by this necessity. This seems to have something in common with the egocentrism of children Fowler describes.

At the age of four or five I was absolutely certain everyone could see their own face at all times (because I could see their faces, I suppose) but that I could not see mine no matter how hard I tried. I remember very vividly trying to overcome this problem while riding in the cab of my Grandpa Dale’s pickup truck with my brother. Imagine trying to explain to them that you’re crying because you can’t see your own face while everyone else can. Hoo, boy.

As a child I was told that if I loved Jesus and asked him to come into my heart I would feel his love. So I lay in bed praying for Jesus’ love and I felt … nothing. I cried myself to sleep several nights at the age of six believing the deficiency was mine and resolving to be a good Christian until God felt I was worthy of his love. But even that young, the seeds of doubt were sown.

They were in full flower by the age of thirteen, well developed by fourteen, and in open rebellion at fifteen when I told my mother I would no longer be going to church. There was yelling and the slamming of doors. Despite the prodding of my family, I’ve not been back since. I do not regret it, though I sometimes wonder about it now. But I’ve reached my one page limit, and that is a longer story.

All I’ll say in closing is I also think I either skipped Fowler’s Stage 3 entirely, or paused their briefly when I was twelve. Conformity and authority never played much role in my life, unless you count them in terms of opposition.

1 comment:

bookbird said...

i dont know anything about Fowler. But I do know that I liked your story about the faces very much, and it resonated with me that as a child you thought the fault was your own about not feeling Jesus. I carried lots of guilt about that too when I was small. maybe I still do?

A great read - thankyou!