I watch as images of a child play on the two-inch screen of my family’s old video camera. A smiling three-year-old boy looks back at me. I can see the carefree innocence that children possess.
As the child starts to run, I follow his every move. His legs working as hard as they can, feet hitting the sidewalk clumsily. His green vest is two sizes too big and flops about. That boy runs with a sense of joy. I hear his laughter. It’s the kind of laughter only a kid is capable of making.
I had found stacks of old Hi8 videotapes and had some free time because I was grounded for making some stupid decisions a few days earlier. I sat down with my mother and watched them.
That kid was me a long time ago.
At one point, I looked at my mom and she had a sad expression on her face.
As I watched things play out on the screen, I felt a longing for the life of that little boy. His life wasn’t stressful or difficult. He didn’t have to worry about school, relationships, social expectations or getting caught.
At the time, he had two parents who lived together and loved each other. I could see in his smile that he was happy. I could see it in the way he ran and skipped. I could see his happiness in the way he looked at the person behind the camera.
But as that kid grew up – as I grew up – things changed. It started with my parents’ divorce. I was in a constant state of movement from then on. I never felt like I had one place to call home.
Mom’s house, then dad’s house. And back and forth again. With the exception of the holidays, I never stayed at either place for more than a week.
Then came the pressures of school. Homework. Grades. Friendships. And the constant need to fit in, to fit social norms and expectations. Smoking. Drinking. Will people like me? Is this the right thing to say? Am I cool? Am I good enough?
Every high schooler has these thoughts at one time or another. We play into this system like a product on a factory line conveyor belt.
The expectation comes from above: Go to college if you want to have a successful life. We’re constantly told to do better, to work harder. Each step in our lives is just another stop along that conveyor belt.
My recent stop came when I was grounded for bowing to peer pressure. I felt the need to fit in. I stepped over boundaries and succumbed, giving up my better judgment just to be cool.
As I changed the videotape and watched footage from the day I was born, I looked at my mom again and we hugged. We had been through so much together. We talked about all the memories we shared. I realized that even though I messed up, our relationship would survive.
Adults tend to forget that there’s still a bright-eyed three year old inside us all. As teens, we may not show it in the midst of talking back, partying or struggling with grades. But that kid is there.
I’m growing up and life is changing. I am at the next station on the conveyor belt. But I realize at this stage that I come from a family that expresses love for each other. And I’m lucky. I come from my mom and my dad, both of whom have shaped me and made me who I am today.
The boy who ran on the sidewalk now knows that things get harder in the future, with college, a job, a family. But he will always know where he comes from.
My mom put her arm over my shoulder and pulled me close. “You’re still my little boy,” she said. ◊