Adults Have Misclassified Me As A HandfulCommentary • Opinion • children • activism • ISSUE 43•30 • Jul 25, 2007 By Timmy Johnson Clearly, a mistake has been made. For whatever reason, I have been singled out and wrongly characterized by the adult world as a "real handful." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.I concede that I am something of a live wire. Given to the occasional outburst of what might in all fairness be called hyperactivity, especially in cases involving high sugar intake—of course. But the "handful" classification is problematic at best, a gross exaggeration at worst. Am I a child who is sometimes difficult? Yes. Am I a difficult child? No. The distinction is more than semantic. Once you get a reputation for being a handful, everything you do is automatically cast in a negative light. Suspicious glances meet you every time you even think about touching the frame of your younger sister's playpen, and God forbid you come within five feet of a houseplant. You have, in effect, already been accused, tried, and sentenced for actions you have not even taken. From then on, anything you do is retroactively construed as "problem behavior."Knowingly or unknowingly, adults create a set of expectations that a 4-year-old like me can't help but internalize on some level. After enough humiliating time-outs, those who are treated as handfuls start thinking of themselves as such. Admittedly, my attention span is short, and at times I am easily distracted by colorful and/or animal-shaped stimuli in my immediate environment. But I cannot stress enough the importance of early-childhood self-image formation. (I believe Thomas the Tank Engine has explored this subject in some detail—I'd cite the specific episode but unfortunately I don't have it in front of me at the moment.) A label like "handful"—nothing more than a social construct—can take years to shake off. It could very well haunt me until I'm 6, even 7 years old. And by that time, it probably will have led to something even worse. Today it may be "handful," but how long before you are being called a wisenheimer, or even worse, a Buster Brown?Now, allow me to preempt a predictable yet fallacious argument from my detractors: that by complaining, I am being a big crybaby-face. I understand the impulse to render my argument moot by resorting to ad hominem attacks, but again, it is an unfair assessment of my character. I have never been one to engage in manipulative grandstanding, and I have no patience for those who use whining, balled-up fists, or stomping on the floor as measures by which to flout adult authority. On the contrary, I stand by my previous assertion that I have a legitimate grievance to air, and, while my tummy does indeed ache, this is a much more serious ill. It is the "terrible twos" all over again. A whole year boiled down to being "terrible," despite many notable achievements during those 12 months. I made huge strides in shape recognition and speech acquisition. Plus, need I remind you, I learned to walk while carrying a stuffed animal in my hands.Further evidence of selective memory on the subject of my conduct can be seen in the failure to recognize and praise my more recent achievements. I've managed to start putting away my blocks more than 50 percent of the time. I can almost tie my shoes; true, I cannot loop yet, but have perfected the first phase. Plus, I can now button my shirt. And yet, in that specific instance, more attention was paid to the fact that I might not have gotten my shirttails exactly even than to the fact that I had made a breakthrough in the much more challenging arena of button-fastening.Not unlike the proverbial infant strapped into a bouncy-bouncy chair, I am at the mercy of the adult world's judgment, a world in which any protest on my part is met with the suggestion that maybe somebody needs a nap. As if a few minutes of lie-down sleepy-time could even begin to solve a problem this systemic and pervasive! How so-called "grown-ups" could resort to such base stereotyping in their supposedly advanced thinking is beyond my comprehension. So I beg you, as mature big people, to reconsider this damaging opinion which has caused far too much pain already. Thank you, bye-bye, and have a good day. Editorial all gone!