Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.
— Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
For years I had the pleasure of teaching The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I loved following Tom and his adventures and witnessing his foray into young adulthood. The simplicity that allowed Tom to enjoy the important things in life is something that we deem childish, yet there is something genuine about his propensity to skip school and go fishing, read adventure books, and play Robin Hood.
Something genuine that his Aunt Polly seems to miss out on and doesn’t appreciate until she attends his funeral (spoiler alert – Tom isn’t actually dead).
As a dad, I would find myself reading and rereading that simple preface. I read it as an advisory from Twain himself – a cautionary warning shot to adults. A reminder that in all of our wisdom and maturity, it is important to remember the times that we were anything but adult.
Why does this matter?
Sometimes, as adults, we need a reminder of what we once were. With the distractions of bills, work and other responsibilities, it’s easy to forget the dreams and fun we used to have and how it led to who we are now. As parents, we will witness our own kids passing time playing goofy games, struggling with friends, falling in love for the first time, getting their hearts broken, having society spoil their innocence. As parents we need to remember how enjoyable, trying, intoxicating, heartbreaking and scary all of these experiences are.
Simply put – remembering being a kid makes us better adults.
I swear that’s why we have pictures. They serve as reminders. Sometimes I look at these old images and I see the face of my childhood. All those hopes, dreams, and fears come racing back. Those memories allow me to appreciate the range of emotions that my kids face every day.
Twain ends his novel with an acknowledgement of the line that separates childhood from adulthood – a line that perhaps can get blurry at times. He writes:
SO endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a BOY, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a MAN. When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop—that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can.
So while the story may end, the lessons do not. Parenthood sometimes means listening not only to the needs and desires of your own children, but remembering the needs and desires that you had as a kid. Your inner child often can serve as a mediator between you and your own children. Don’t ignore those lessons or memories.
It’s important to remember what we once were.
A version of this first appeared on Tales from the Poop Deck. Remembering photo courtesy Creed Anthony.