April Child

April 27, 2012

Have you heard the dream-like song called “April Child”? The words and melody were written for Rigoletto, part of the Feature Films for Families collection.

            Dear April child, are you dreaming of June?

            Like a tender young flower awaiting summer’s bloom.

            Sweet April child in the springtime of youth.

            What a glorious season, it is yours, let it shine through….

            Sweet April child, it’s the spring of your youth.

            Cherish these precious days, summer comes all too soon….

Like peach blossoms in springtime, childhood seems almost ethereal. We try to capture the fleeting moments, as we celebrate the bittersweet changes through cultural rites of passage. Yet, in America, so many rites of passage have been lost, and the stages of childhood have become blurred. Many families expect children to talk and dress like teenagers, whether or not the youngsters have reached a thirteenth birthday.

By the time my hair was long enough to cut and style, my family had rejected the term “teenager.” Knowing this word was a product of the mid-twentieth century, I wondered. What had our forefathers recognized as the stages of childhood?

A compelling idea took hold of my young mind when I read Hawthorne’s short story, “The Great Stone Face.” In the story, a child is raised under the shadow of a mountain that has been carved by nature with human features. Studying this noble face, the sunny child grows into a gentle boy, who in turn becomes an upright, diligent young man. I noticed the progression, recalling the title of another nineteenth century book, Elsie’s Girlhood. Perhaps, “Beautiful Girlhood” and “All American Boyhood” were not just names of Vision Forum catalogs. Perhaps they were the answers I sought.

There is much in old books to confirm my suspicions. Once upon a time, “child,” “girl” and “boy” were not interchangeable, generic terms. Children referred to infants, toddlers, and grade school sons and daughters. Fashion history and art museums reveal that ruffles and dresses were appropriate for children of both genders, for a simple reason. Childhood was the time we learned speech, reading, writing, politeness, and religion – qualities that define our humanity. The fine-tuned qualities of manliness or womanliness, and the donning of distinctive apparel, came later in life.

Admission to boyhood or girlhood marked a turning point. Do you remember how Wendy is pressed to leave the nursery before her adventure with Peter Pan? No longer numbered among the children of the house, she must follow in her mother’s footsteps to learn the arts and expectations of womanhood. For a Scriptural analogy, we need only examine Luke 2:39-52. Searching for their child, Mary and Joseph are surprised to find the boy Jesus in the temple. There Jesus sits, earnestly listening and inquiring at the feet of his elders. The time has come for the boy to go about his Father’s business.

After many years, with a well-trained mind and strength of heart, a boy may take his final step toward adulthood. He may claim the hard-earned title of young man. A girl likewise, after years of preparation, may step into her role of young woman. Youthful confidence and mature prudence characterize this stage of life. Now of marriageable age, the young man and young woman may take the solemn vow with a nod of approval from their community.

This life, today, tomorrow, next year, is a gift. I’m not nostalgic for another era, but I do believe we have much to learn from the past. Shall we resurrect customs that imprison children in nurseries and bedeck small boys in ruffled coats? Certainly not. Might we, however, reclaim a few principles about growing up, about becoming a man, about when to marry? What if our culture measured maturity by selfless behavior instead of age… what if every man had a mentor before he braved the seas of life… what if faithfulness and diligence, not college degrees and loans, were the marks of young people considering marriage? We all desire to see great men and women rise up in this land. With that worthy end in sight, we must first restore a right view of childhood.