Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 27, 2008

Regression. Who me?

A few days ago I told my nineteen-year-old daughter that I was going with friends to see Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. There was a pause before Em said, “Isn’t that a little young for you?”

I thought it was kind of sweet she didn’t phrase it as: aren’t you old for that?

I recently heard Carol Christ, the president of Smith College, speak about fantasy in nineteenth century literature for children. She called Alice in Wonderland her favorite children’s book, in part because of the way it speaks to both adults and children. She mentioned the rabbit hole as perhaps symbolizing the regression of adults, going back into the womb. Hmm. I’m more apt to think about how we wind our ways around words or add layers as we read books we read as children and find more than we first did. It’s not about going back in search of lost boys or lost worlds, but maybe realizing those people and places have been with us all along.

Or something. Sorry. I just mean to say that regression isn’t a word I care to use, and that things are more complicated than moving back or moving forward, and that we may never completely peel away all the people we’ve ever been. It’s why fairy tales stick with us, and why we find more in them as years pass. We don’t have to move beyond, but just let things accrue. I told my students who are studying picture books about my just-hit-up-the-candy-store feeling, part guilt, more elation, the first time I checked out library books not intended for my child, but for me. Yes, you can find pretty or funny pictures even in the stacks of college libraries, which not only have a cataloguing system that’s more complicated than the Dewey Decimal most library-lovers grew up with, but have the jackets removed from books, almost as if to keep the stacks less colorful and shiny.

“There should therefore be a time in adult life devoted to revisiting the most important books of our youth. Even if the books have remained the same,… we have most certainly changed, and our encounter with them will be a new thing.” — Italo Calvino, The Use of Literature

And C. S. Lewis, wrote, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.” (“On Three Ways of Writing for Children)

The idea of growing up suggests a movement toward a better state. Yes, in some ways, but not entirely. It’s good to read books written for young people and good to hang out with them. I like walking with my contemporary, Mary, as we discuss political campaigns, cholesterol, and calcium, for instance, but yesterday I had fun walking with my thirteen-year-old neighbor, hearing her philosophy on squirrel chasing dogs – they can’t help it, it’s like a video game to them. And did I know anyone who might want some chickens she needs to get rid of? They’re past laying eggs but make nice easy pets, and she has 28, a lot to get in each night. When our dog leashes crossed, instead of passing over the leads as Mary and I do, G. leapt over them, without a break in the conversation.



  1. Great post. I believe in accumulation, too – we are all the ages we have ever been. And I agree with your notion of levels and layers of meaning. The best stories have them
    I was just talking with Linda Urban about this the other day, as we chatted about Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins, which is marvelous, but much sadder or more melancholy than Toys Go Out, in part because Jenkins is discussing the aging of the child to whom the toys belong. And although kids are eager to get older, eager for what’s next, there’s an underlying feeling sorrow about what’s been (or being) lost.

  2. I took my mom to see the movie. We both loved it.

  3. Thanks, Kelly. I’ll have to look for that book. Interesting to think of a Dance Party being melancholy, but why not?

  4. Oh, good! We liked it, too. One of my friends compared the running around all night to American Graffitti, so I just watched that again the other night.

  5. It’s either a chapter book or a collection of stories, depending on how you look at it, and it’s a continuation of the characters from Toys Go Out. (I hope you’ll read them both.)
    Toys Go Out is adorable and is, in my opinion, a hugging book (as in, you want to – or do – hug the book). The stories in Toy Dance Party, while funny, have an underlying sadness to them, in my opinion.

  6. I love the story about G jumping over the leashes–what a wonderful young person to have around!
    Do you know where I could find the Lewis essay? I’d love to read the whole thing.

  7. You definitely have a daughter who has a way with words!
    I’m with you. I don’t think of it as regression, either. We’re like onions, or trees, and we add layers over time, but the core remains and it’s good to give it some nutrients regularly so that it stays healthy.
    I’m a lot happier at 50, when I’m not worried about “behaving like a grown up” than I was at 25 or 30, when I was trying to do what I thought I was supposed to do. The oordination and suppleness of a teen seems like small compensation for the difficulties of being in the midst of that age.

  8. Yes, G always makes me laugh. I keep wondering when or if she’ll get more of a pre-adolescent bent, but thankfully not yet.
    That’s a great essay by Lewis — I’ve read it several times and always something different stands out. I have a collection called On Stories by him, which it’s in, but I think it’s fairly widely anthologized, and most collections of essays by him would include it.

  9. True, true, true!
    I’m in no hurry to be a grandparent, but we did discuss the circles life sometimes make, where a grandparent figure may be closer to the life of an imagination, like a child, than that parent in between: the professor in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe who’s seen it all but is still looking, too.

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