Skip to content

Goodbye Childhood Essay

Childhood is like the springtime of your life. The intensity of the colours you experience can only be compared with the bright bluebells and the darling daffodils of the season. The raw intimacy of a child laughing can only be equally captured by the soft screech of a cuckoo bird. Spring smells of incredible possibilities sprinkled with the promise of opportunity, creating a perfume that no amount of chemical wizardry can replicate. Just like the landscape is bursting with beauty, childhood is bursting with potential; unhindered by the trials of what is to come. I often wish that we could bottle it all up; the joy, the innocence, the freedom - and maybe we can, and if we can, we should.

As a child, I was the conquerer of castles, the princess in the tower and the creator of my own fairytales. There was no tree too tall, no river too wide and no limit to the possibilities that I would pursue. You may call it ‘rose coloured glasses’, but the bright blues, the blushing pinks and the mellow yellows all seemed pretty natural to me. I guess everything was magnified by the intensity of my excitement. I would happily trade in the dull, muddy glasses that I am forced to wear now, with these vibrant ones. My current pair are tainted with a constant tone of ‘well I’ve seen that before’, replacing the ferocious, florescent colours of my childhood with grimy greys, dank and dark. Childhood innocence brought the world to life and the eternal optimism that we viewed everything with granted us joy. Everything was beautiful because it was new and fresh, and every piece of it was being eaten up with eager eyes. I guess that’s just it. Every morsel was demolished, leaving us scrambling for the remaining crumbs. However, the recipe is not lost or forgotten. It’s just like your favourite song, you never forget the words. You just have to choose to listen.

I used to look forward to my visits to Dublin. Not just because the promise of McDonald’s on the journey buttered me up, but because I knew I would see my grandparents. Not only that, but I knew that on the way out, my granddad would shake my hand while pressing a crisp ten euro note into my palm. (A practice that he continues to this day) I was never good at hiding the immense joy of this sum. The idea of jelly tots, teddy bears and fairy wings pirouetted around in my mind. My excitement could not even have been eclipsed by a child with keys to a chocolate factory - and this happened almost every other weekend. Every little thing meant something. Every little surprise generated a wave of euphoria. What about now? Now that we know the value of money, this apparently measly sum means little to us. We don’t want jelly tots, we want a new handbag. We don’t want a teddy bear, we want a foreign holiday. We don’t care for fairy wings, we now find it perfectly sensible to remain with our feet on the ground. Yes of course, someone handing you a ten euro note doesn’t seem like a lot when you have bills to pay. But that doesn’t mean that the spontaneity or surprise of any situation, no matter how small, shouldn’t at least make us smile.

Recipe for success; you need one perfect princess, one dashing prince and lots of magic. These are the fundamentals of most of the fairy-tales that I read as a child. Not only did I read them, but I sang along to them, acted them out and bought the pretty dresses. I lived through them - and I placed my faith in these stories and I let them be the benchmark for most of my romantic fantasies for many years to come. I believed in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. Even when every Tom, Dick and Harry told me that Santa didn’t exist, I wouldn’t let their pointless pessimism ruin my day. Under the guise of frivolous fairies and wicked witches, my imagination thrived. The world was my kingdom, and I could wave my magic wand and it would succumb to my intentions. Then, just like the limited beauty of a sunset, it’s all gone; and you are left with a lot more terrifying toads than handsome princes. You could say that we know better, that we have to let these ridiculous notions fly away with those fairies - but I beg to differ. We leave ourselves so firmly rooted in the mundanity of life that we have lost the ability to dream. The innocence of childhood allowed us to be transported into another world; and I hope we haven’t lost the ticket.

In Cinderella, when the clock struck twelve, everything came to an abrupt close. She had to wave goodbye to her handsome prince, the pumpkin went ‘poof’ and her men turned to mice. In Ireland, all children can recall being ushered to bed before the clocks tolled nine. We weren’t even given a glass slipper as a token. What happened after the watershed was surrounded by intrigue and mystery. The whines and whimpers of children could be heard across the country when parent’s subtly nudged each other and said ‘we’ll tell you when you’re older’. This was a time in our lives when someone saying a curse word was as significant as boiling newborn puppies. When two people kissing on-screen was met with the words ‘ew that’s gross’ ringing in parent’s ears. Bambi’s mom getting shot by the hunter was as much violence as we could take, thank you very much. That was until we heard more cursing in a Kanye West song, heard all about the bird’s and the bees, and until Love Hate lit up our tv’s. Although I don’t particularly want to watch re-runs of Barney for the rest of my life, I would like to retain enough childhood joy and innocence to not hear a second meaning in everything people say.

I used to climb trees like they were my stairways to heaven. Breaking up through their brilliant boughs; immersed in this bustling city of life and energy. One loose branch, or one wrong step and my flailing limbs would crash through each layer of leaves and I would land in an undignified heap on the ground. However, one Barbie plaster later and perhaps ‘a kiss to make it better’, and I was back out there again. Cautious at first but in no time at all, I would be swinging from branch to branch like Tarzan’s long lost cousin. Now, falling is the equivalent of failure. Giving up is the new norm and I don’t think our childhood selves would be very proud of us. If we choose to sit down in the muck, jeans torn and tears streaming down our face, we aren’t going to get anywhere. Yes, you may be covered in a billion blossoming bruises, angry violets and pulsing purples; but that’s the whole point. Instead of giving up, grab a Barbie bandage and keep on trying. That is the motto that our innocence granted us and one that we should all follow.

Childhood was a time of innocence; of jelly tots and bad tv. A time when getting excited over 10 euro was acceptable and when everything was just that bit easier. Some of us let the severity of our adult lives knock the crown off our heads and let the fairy wings be ripped from our backs; but that does not have to be the case. We may not wish to carry the Barney bear with us any longer, but the resilience, the joy and the sweet serenity of our childhood lives; that’s for keeps.

Farewells are not just limited to family and friends in your home country, of course. Expat life means that you’re plunged into a sea of friends and acquaintances who come and go daily with the tide. I’ve met people at coffee mornings and made a mental note to get to know them better, only to find that they’ve announced their departure before I’ve even put a date in my diary.

That sea of friendship also means that when you meet the right person, you cling together for support. Expat friendships can therefore be especially intense, making it even harder when one of you decides to move on.

Australian expat Liana Liston has developed an unconscious coping mechanism to deal with the pain this brings. “When I know someone’s going to leave, I start picking fights with them and am generally a bit mean,” she says. “I'll get really offended at something they've done to react, and then convince myself that I'm not sad that they’re going. I don’t realise I’m doing it until after the event and someone's pointed it out.”

Many people are on short-term contracts in Qatar, so during my four years here, I’ve seen lots of friends come and go. Each time is as hard as the last. My own coping mechanism is a combination of avoidance and make-believe. For example, a good friend of mine has just left, and I couldn’t face going to see her to say goodbye; it was simply easier to opt for denial.

“Although leaving is hard, I think seeing good friends leave is harder,” says Sam Richards, an army wife who has lived in three different countries in the past 10 years. “A space is left where there used to be play dates, barbeques, or a chat at the school gates.”

It’s not just parents who feel the absence at the school gates, of course. Expat children also suffer from the fall-out of a nomadic lifestyle. Catherine Guild is shortly moving back to the UK from Qatar, and she’s worried about how her four-year-old daughter will cope. “Last year her best friend left to go back to London,” she says. “She initially refused to believe it and then sobbed her heart out. Leaving the UK was easy as she was so young. But how on earth do I tell her that we are leaving the only home that she remembers?”

Despite all this emotional upheaval, there’s an important benefit to be gained from these eternal goodbyes, says Amy Weaver, who’s just moved back to the UK from Qatar. “Saying goodbye to the good friends I’ve made as an expat has made my marriage stronger than ever,” she says. “I've dealt with it all by sharing my every last thought with my husband.”

This last point really resonates with me. As Mum and Dad drove away down our road in the airport taxi, I hugged my husband tightly, and then went up to check on our sleeping son. The longer I live away from the UK, the more I realise that my little nuclear family is my home. “Goodbyes make us remember that wherever we are in the world, we still have each other,” says Amy. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Visit Victoria's website here, or follow her on Twitter @toryscott

Read the rest of our expat guest columns atwww.telegraph.co.uk/guests