innocence. it’s a good thing.

You know what I don’t like? The “real world.”

People sound so mean when they talk about it. Once, an ex-boyfriend who was still hurt yelled at me, “You don’t know anything about the real world!”

I thought of this:

(A street fight. That’s what it sounds like. source)

Or maybe it looks like this:

Whenever people say “the real world,” they mean that there’s another world, a fake one, that someone is trying to live in. And that is always bad.

But I especially dislike it when people talk this way about kids. “They need to learn about the real world.” When people say this about kids, they mean that they’re too sheltered, or too spoiled, or too safe, or too innocent.

Sometimes people defend things as awful as bullying by saying, “Well, it’ll teach them to deal with the real world.”

As though this place called the real world is full of cruel people, just waiting to torment you. What a terrible place! I don’t want to live there!

Kids are meaner than adults, I think. I even met meaner people in college (they’re still basically kids) than I’ve met since then. Once, when I asked a girl in one of my freshman classes not to use the word “gay” as an insult, she screamed all sorts of things at me. The word “bitch” got repeated a lot. I was really surprised, but I’d be more surprised if that happened now.

I am thankful for my innocence as a kid. I wouldn’t have traded it in then for any amount of forbidden adult knowledge of the real world. My real world was awesome. I was dorky and cool at the same time. Actually, those words didn’t mean that much. I lived a lot in my head, which, since I was always reading novels about magical kingdoms and wilderness explorers, felt a lot like an endless enchanted forest.


I wasn’t stupid. One of the boys I hung out with told me that Leonardo Dicaprio fainted when he saw Kate Winslet’s naked boobs for the first time during the shooting of the new blockbuster Titanic. I didn’t believe him.

“No, he fainted,” he insisted. “They were that amazing.”

“No one faints because they see some breasts,” I said. I didn’t use the word “boobs” back then.

“You don’t know about sex,” he said.

“I know enough,” I said.

Neither one of us knew very much. We weren’t even teenagers yet. But I really did know enough. Why would I need to know more?

Worldly, fast-talking, jaded little kids are popular characters on TV and in movies, and they’re popular in life, where adults find them amusing. Hell, I find them amusing, too! But I’m also glad I wasn’t one of them. I mean, I was fast-talking, but it probably wasn’t clever and knowing and snide. I probably only thought it was. I didn’t know how to swear until I was fifteen, when I practiced diligently and began emphasizing my points with what I considered a gracefully adept placement of a certain four letter word beginning with the letter F. My parents weren’t thrilled, but I couldn’t be stopped. It was too much fun.

There’s plenty of time to learn how to swear and memorize all 256 sex positions from the latest Cosmo and figure out that some people will take advantage of you if you show any sign of weakness and that an enormous variety of automatic behaviors are in fact uncool and pathetic and lame. There’s not enough time to think about enchanted forests undisturbed.

Even now, walking down Broadway in the suffocating heat, surrounded by brick buildings and sluggish hordes of people, I suddenly think of a forest, stretching out into the distance.

This time, it’s a forest I’ve actually seen. In California, which has blended in my mind with the worlds in the fantasy novels I read as a kid.

“I don’t think I’d know how to deal with a forest anymore,” I tell Bear. “They look kind of dangerous and scary. No one is around to help you, in case something happens.” Oh, New York, this is what you do to people.

I used to go out in the woods all the time as a kid. I could look for edible plants all day. Sometimes I even found one.

“It’s weird that I ended up here,” I tell Bear. “It’s the opposite of what I wanted as a kid.”

It’s hard to be an elfyn mage in Manhattan. But it’s OK, because I don’t read fantasy books anymore.

(Bear, protector of the enchanted forest. Werebear warrior, of course.)

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles.



Kate on July 26th 2011 in life

19 Responses to “innocence. it’s a good thing.”

  1. innocence. it’s a good thing. « Skipping School responded on 26 Jul 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    [...] here to read the rest of this post at Eat the Damn Cake!    What does it mean to [...]

  2. Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman responded on 26 Jul 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    This post reminds me of when I was in high school and two of my (oh so lovely) friends decided to start “the reality club”… you know, for people who weren’t me.

    And on an unrelated note (really!) I totally agree that kids and teenagers are so much meaner than adults are. As a general rule.

  3. LeeH responded on 26 Jul 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    I don’t think it’s necessarily mean to point out when someone isn’t living in reality, specially young people. Come on, MY parents don’t send me money every time I want something. Even if I NEED something there isn’t someone to come to MY rescue. So when my husband’s 21-year old is still whining for constant support, even when she’s making her own money (when her savings account is larger than mine because HER money is being saved for a car), I think she needs a dose of ‘the real world’ where she tries supporting herself or going without the Coach bag. It’s where most of us live, and it’s a great place, but you have to learn how to live in it and it’s not always easy.

  4. Reckless Housewife responded on 26 Jul 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    I don’t go the forest; I go to the beach. And I see nothing wrong with a little escape from reality if it helps you cope with “too much reality”. It helps me not want to beat the living tar out of my children when they are practicing their meanness on one another. As long as you return to the real world after a brief hiatus…

    Seriously, I want my kids to have a fine balance of imagination and reality. But their reality doesn’t need to be a shoot-out at a skating rink. I think it’s good to protect their innocence for as long as possible. And when you can’t shelter them from the hard things anymore, you have to be there to listen to them and help them cope with the difficult things life tosses in our paths. Dorky and cool is the best way for kids to be.

  5. Emily responded on 26 Jul 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    There is no real world. We all live in our own situations and contexts. We choose where we go, who we interact with, how we live. I say, teach your children about the world you want them to live in. Maybe they will end up creating it. If not, there is plenty of time for them to learn about other, less pleasant worlds.

    I think that spoiling kids with too much money is a different story, but it’s not about the world you are in, it’s about learning to take care of yourself whatever world you are in.

  6. Courtney responded on 26 Jul 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    The only things I’ve learned about the real world through and after college is that it’s full of bitter “Adults” who are pissed off at life because they’re working long hours for little pay and no vacation time to do things they actually want to do, and that they’re determined to convince me that this is what I have to look forward to. I’m really not sure I want this “real world” of which they speak!

  7. kathleen responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 6:55 am #

    This really struck a chord with me.

    My family and I moved across the world when I was just between being a kid and just before being a teen. The shock of discovering the kids in my new country were at least couple years ahead of me was pretty jarring.

    We get to be kids for such a short time, to play and jump around, to not worry about stupid things like how we look, how our thighs compare with others… Why try hurry that along?

    I think everyone matures at their own pace and sometimes rushing that can do more damage than one realises.

    Great post :)

  8. justmama responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 6:58 am #

    The term “real life” is all too often used to describe a not so pleasant place in which all too many folks find themselves. That is sad. I don’t think anyone would choose the “real world” if they really thought about it.
    My girls grew up on our farm, learning firsthand about the living and dying and hardtimes that make up a part of LIFE. They also have GREAT memories of playing in the creek, hanging in the trees, and playing pretend when the work was done. They are both mature and responsible young married women.
    Responsibility can be taught in such a way that a harsh lesson in “reality” is not necessary.
    As for being “dorky and cool at the same time”…that’s me! (and I’m 47 years old!) What a great line. :)

  9. Deanna responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 9:50 am #

    It’s true…Get Real or The Real World usually don’t describe pleasant situations. I also agree that reality is different for each and every person.

    My daughter asked me the other day when we were driving to her college to check out apartments if she needed to know at this age (19) what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. LOL. I told her most people 3 times her age may not know that yet. I did tell her that she would have to work since our money tree hasn’t been growing all that well, but whatever job she takes may not have anything to do with what she wants to do. People who end up doing exactly what they want to do end up changing their minds down the road. We could end up with many careers or maybe just with hobbies we love to do when we have time.

    I think we all need an escape from reality from time to time as well. Too much reality may be bad for the health!

  10. Christin responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Ah, the constant diatribe from those who didn’t understand homeschooling was that we wouldn’t be prepared for the “real” world! Your post is a refreshing reminder that “real” isn’t always best. I’m sure by many people’s standards I was sheltered, but I’m thankful for that sheltering because I can still recognize the bad parts of the “real” world…I have not become numbed to it.

  11. Kate responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 11:26 am #

    P.S. It’s definitely important to add that innocence doesn’t mean irresponsibility!

  12. Ashling responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    I think too few kids actually get to be ‘innocent’. I sure didn’t. Innocence is a precious commodity, and if it dances for just a little while with fantasy, so much the better.

  13. shevrae responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    I’m with Ashling – my childhood was quite lacking in innocence. So I’m doing whatever I can to give it to my own children. :)

  14. camelshoes responded on 28 Jul 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I was also a sheltered child, and looking back, I wouldn’t trade it. It was an idyllic childhood for the most part.

    Your story about the boy who thought Leonardo Di Caprio would have fainted when he saw Kate Winslet’s breasts reminded me of an incident that happened when I was about 8 years old. I was at the babysitter’s place (she provided after school care for most of the kids from my school) and I was playing outside with a boy from my grade at school. I had a bit of a crush on him and we were half-wrestling/half-tickling each other, all very innocent and fun. Then a boy who was much younger than us shouted loudly “You’re having sex!”, and even though I knew that we weren’t (because I knew you needed to be naked for that) and weren’t doing anything wrong, I felt very self-conscious and turned bright red. I looked across at my crush and he was bright red too. And it was as if we had suddenly became very aware of our bodies and that we were *different*; a boy and a girl. And my crush and I didn’t really play like that again. Which is sad, really.

  15. camelshoes responded on 28 Jul 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Oh, and unroast: I’ve been so incredibly busy that I haven’t had a haircut all year. My hair is so long now and I’m enjoying the way it falls in waves down my back.

  16. Val responded on 29 Jul 2011 at 1:13 am #

    oh kate, what a great post. love, val

  17. Lauren responded on 30 Jul 2011 at 12:08 am #

    I am fifteen years old. I read fantasy novels, fairy tales, things like Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings. Sci-fi fascinates me. I want aliens to be real. I swear occassionally, but only when I’m very, very mad or scared or stub my little toe really hard. I have every line of the Lord of The Rings movies memorized. I still have imaginary friends. I believe in God, and love Him passionately. I’m not naive. I’m not stupid. But I’m innocent. And I like it.

    My world is an enchanted forest, too.

  18. Stephanie responded on 31 Jul 2011 at 1:13 am #

    I really enjoyed this post!

    Until yesterday I would have agrees wholeheartedly with you that kids are meaner than adults. But then, I was surprised! YEsterday at work there was a mandatory truing. We needed to sit in groups of 3. There was no one else at my table (I tried to sit somewhere else but was informed that the seat in questions was “taken”). My boss asked for 2 volunteers from the more crowded tables join me… which lead to the next few most humiliating minutes of my life since NO ONE got up to join me.

    So I have learned, just because someone is in the 40-60 age range does not put them beyond hurtful childish behavior.

  19. Jiminy responded on 05 Aug 2011 at 6:05 am #

    This particular post feels so familiar. When my second daughter was born, my mother in law printed and framed for both girls’ rooms the Dutch original of this poem:

    To a little girl

    This is the land where grown up people live
    You don’t have to enter yet, it’s rotten there
    There are no more fairies, there are hormones,
    and everytime something else is wrong.

    And in this land all adventures
    are the same, of a man and of a woman.
    And behind every wall there are other walls
    and never a unicorn or a bogeyman

    And here all the things have two sides
    and here all the teddybears are dead.
    And bad pieces are in bad newspapers
    and that’s what bad men do for a living.

    Here a forest is just a bunch of trees
    and the soldiers are no longer made of tin.
    This is the land where grown up people live….
    Don’t worry. You don’t have to enter yet.

    YET???? The beautiful frames stand face against the wall. I never had the strength of character to tell my mother in law that I’m never going to hang them op. How is this the message you want to give your (grand)children? No real world for me, thank you very much :>). Not this real world, anyway.