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Child within

Tori Roeck | Monday, October 3, 2011

While cleaning out my closet this summer, I discovered artifacts of a former self — the child. This pack rat left me with a week’s worth of cleaning, discarding and donating. Who did she think she was, collecting hundreds of Walgreens birthday cards and 2nd grade grammar worksheets?

Among piles of childhood remnants, I found clues to this young prodigy’s pursuits. She was a poet, a playwright, a painter and a photographer. She was a jetsetter, a fashion plate, a free spirit and an all-around renaissance kid.

How foreign this mysterious figure seems! She traipsed around the mall and the museum with no responsibilities, chatting up her imaginary friends and pursuing whichever form of artistic expression suited her mood that day.

Here I was, working-girl extraordinaire, enduring the daily grind. Every weekday morning this summer, I waited on the train platform for the 8:13 a.m. shuttle into Manhattan, perusing the Wall Street Journal and sipping Kona coffee. I would stroll into my Financial District highrise office building, greet the security guard, ascend to the 16th floor and take my place in my drab half of a cubicle.

I had fallen into a rut of responsibility. I was an unpaid intern at a pro bono law organization that resettles Iraqi refugees, and the time I spent in front of my laptop had a great impact on the futures of our indigent clients and their families. There was no room for daydreaming or Facebook-stalking when people could die if your memo wasn’t completed on time.

How could I, the girl in the J. Crew pencil skirt, Skyping with a client in Syria, be the same person who drew that crayon rendering of my pug dog I found in the dregs of a cardboard box?

Am I still just playing dress-up with my mom’s pearls and heels, or have I undergone the painful, irreversible process of turning into an adult? I questioned whether I had taken the path to maturity too early and had wasted time designated for self-expression and indiscretion with dreaded responsibilities.

Granted, I still viewed my work with the wide-eyed wonder of little me, and I thanked God every day that I wasn’t on the other end of the phone call, but the burden of responsibility weighed down the selfish creativity that characterized my past. My clients were forced to grow up too fast when war and sectarian violence tore their families apart, but I was blessed with a safe and comfortable life primed for self-centered pursuits. So shouldn’t I take advantage of it?

By the middle of the summer, I felt burnt out from too much responsibility too fast, and I realized that the childhood, whose remnants I threw away at the beginning of June, did not have to end at 18 years old. I learned that balancing adult responsibilities on the weekdays with more childish activities on the weekends makes you better equipped to confront injustice from your cubicle Monday through Friday.

I am grateful to have had an internship in which my work was meaningful to a group that needs all the help it can get, and I can’t wait to devote my life to a similar cause.

But for right now, I’m OK with being a college kid and holding on to tail-end of my childhood before it slips away.