Childhood

For many, the word childhood rings with nostalgia. It draws to mind the antics of movies like The Sandlot and Matilda and calls us to remember a time in which we were innocent and joyful. But a closer look at both of these films reveals a less-discussed facet of childhood: the darkness and mystery that abound in a time when we are constantly moving from innocence into reality. As children, we all have moments when we learn dark truths: adults are not all amicable and righteous. What lies beyond that fence may be a kind old man, but it could also be a rabid animal. Each childhood is shaped by moments in which the harsh realities of the world color the white canvas of our innocence. Indeed, in her keywords essay on childhood, Karen Sanchez-Eppler works less to define childhood as a time of purity and more to emphasize the vastly varied kinds of youth we all experience. She writes of childhood: “…it’s contours and meanings are deeply circumstantial formed by the particulars of each historical and social situation…” (Sanchez-Eppler 36). The extremes of these particulars are especially useful for shifting our understanding of childhood from a period of universal innocence to a period in which innocence is, to varying and sometimes mindblowing degrees, shattered. Nowhere are these extremes more easily seen than in the popular true crime podcast My Favorite Murder. Here, hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark regale listeners with tales of murder, mystery, and all things macabre. Often, the tales’ protagonists are children. In episode 141, Georgia Hardstark tells the story of Cinnamon Brown, a preteen whose older sister and stepfather brainwashed her into killing her stepmother. Her father, David Brown, allowed Cinnamon to take the fall and spend her youth in prison. While admittedly darker than any youth most of us can fathom, Cinnamon’s girlhood serves as a valuable teacher: childhood innocence is far more complex than we think. Our innocence as children is not always benign, nor is it the definition of what it is to be a child. Innocence leaves us vulnerable, malleable to the manipulations of our elders. Innocence can be broken in a single night. The stories of dark childhoods are hard for us to read, but they’re essential to our contemplation of what it means to be a child. Perhaps it doesn’t mean pure innocence. Perhaps it represents, instead, the complex and often painful process of moving from youthful innocence to a mature understanding of the world we inhabit.

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