I fondly remember childhood Easters, prancing around in youthful wonder to collect the colored eggs I had dyed the day before.
Carelessness and innocence characterized my existence, lacking the feeling of impending doom instilled by homework; work, responsibilities, and laziness had not taken over my being. As I look back over the years, I see myself changing, simultaneously feeling nostalgic for my childhood and that lost part of myself.
This past Easter, I invited a childhood friend over for dinner. Though it was a little shocking to see how much she’s grown—both intellectually and physically—she still felt familiar, like the little girl I spent my childhood with. I figured we’d try to catch up on life since I haven’t seen her since a brief encounter at Ice Palace a few years ago. But we didn’t touch on anything prior to senior year; we talked mostly about colleges. Obviously, talking about our future plans was unavoidable because of the stress surrounding upcoming college decision letters; but I still found it odd how we focused on our lives after childhood. It was almost as if we had forgotten our past selves. I had forgotten my own past, lost in the turbulent transition to adulthood.
Later that night, as I stared aimlessly at the ground, my cat folded herself into the cardboard box beside my desk. Consequently, a handful of memories rekindled themselves. I remembered the times I would imagine a giant Amazon box as a spaceship with random designs I meticulously etched on its sides. I remembered the time I made a cardboard vending machine with haphazardly cut slots for coins and the little pick-up container. As a teenager, that box just brought fleeting happiness along with a random gadget shipped from who knows where.
After that short nostalgic burst, I decided to dig through some old photos to confirm if my memory served me correctly. As I flipped through the pictures, I noticed my incredibly crooked teeth which braces helped me forget. I used to look like such a goofy kid. In a sense, we were all goofy at some point, “childish” as some would say. Just like my reformed teeth, we all have been molded by the braces of our life experiences, for the most part neglecting our original designs. In the process of growing up, we’ve begun to aspire for “perfection.” And although day after day we continue striving for this perfection, we feel the loss of a time when we were okay with being imperfect.
However, this bittersweet nostalgia doesn’t mean we have to regress to exactly how we used to be. Growth is a natural part of life. I like my straightened teeth and I’m delighted by how far I’ve come. I’m just anxious as to whether or not I’ve lost that childlike ability to find joy in playing or creating without concerning myself with achievement. See, I used to believe the transition to adulthood meant rewiring the imaginative way I thought to become more of a realist and a goal-setter. But in retrospect, I realize this isn’t what I’ve done: in becoming an adult, I’ve begun to form expectations for achievement. Working hard on art projects to perfect my craft is a chore, not a pleasure, because I now sketch for the sake of achievement rather than to simply create art. I’ve become so used to the cheap, fleeting joy that comes with achievement that I’ve desensitized myself to personal fulfillment. But of course, this results in constant disappointment, because I don’t always achieve what I think I will. The expectations I set for myself prevent me from enjoying the work. Instead of creating happiness with a cardboard box, I’ve begun to expect that cardboard box to bring me happiness. I’ve stopped having fun with the process.
But that’s the key to personal fulfillment: fun. Recently, I sketched a few portraits of Ariana Grande because I genuinely wanted to. I had fun. Then, the random thought of painting her on an egg popped into my mind, because as a child, I spent hours dying eggs into masterpieces. I hadn’t colored eggs this Easter. I hadn’t felt any spark of inspiration to embark on that annual artistic journey. Or other artistic pursuits, for that matter. With the constant flow of assignments throughout the year, I’d dedicated myself solely to my studies. But all I seemed to do was finish assignment after assignment, desperately trying to avoid a late grade. It was almost as if I wasn’t chasing something; rather, something was chasing me. In attempting to escape this stress, I stopped drawing for myself (reigniting that passion only recently). Instead of creating art in joy, I chose to dwell in the stress of school without doing anything about it. And in this limbo, constantly working and worrying, I had thought I must have finally left my childhood behind and found “adulthood.”
But at that moment, sketching Ariana Grande, I had a revelation: our childhood selves never rot away — they shape our current selves. Our childhood is a core part of our identity. Growing up doesn’t mean we need to discount the “insignificant” things we did as children. There are still traces of who we used to be in practically everything we do. For me, that’s the doodles that live between problems on worksheets, my favorite drink (Coke!), and my passion for dying Easter eggs. And these things can still be a part of our lives. Adulthood isn’t supposed to be about mindlessly working towards the rush of dopamine brought on by achievement, or dedicating 100% of our time to completing the tasks the world deems important. It should be a balance. A balance of working towards something and enjoying the work itself, a balance of school and art. A balance of honoring our inner child and progressing towards maturity. I’m allowed to sit down and draw a pop-star just for the sake of fun, a Coca-Cola on the coaster beside my pencil case and a stack of calculus homework covered in doodles. And, more importantly, I’m allowed strive for perfection and be okay with being imperfect at the same time. And so are you.
We can still enjoy the brightly colored eggs of our childhoods. All we have to do is learn how to dye again.