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Who can say when the first wish opens its pious eyes in the child’s soul? The child probably sleeps away the first few weeks of its existence without a single wish, all its behaviour being probably only manifestations of its inherited instincts. Suddenly the first wish awakens and the humanization of the little animal has begun. And with it begins the wild succession of desires, mounting ever higher and higher and finally aspiring even to the stars. How few of the things we have been dreaming of does life fulfil! Wish after wish, stripped of its purple mantle, sinks to the ground in a state of “looped and windowed raggedness,” till the last wish of all—the longing for peace, eternal peace—puts an end to the play.
Our childhood wishes determine our destiny. They die only with our bodies. They go whirling through our dreams, are the masters of our unconscious emotions, and determine the resonance of the most delicate oscillations of our souls. It certainly seems worthwhile taking a closer look at these wishes. Unfortunately, we are deprived of the best source of such knowledge: the observation of ourselves. For we forget so easily, and our earliest desires lie far behind us, hidden in thick mist. Only the dream pierces the thick veil and brings us greetings from a long-forgotten era.
From the study of our children, we can learn of only one kind of desire. A desire that can be easily observed, that the child betrays most easily in the games it plays.
“And what are you going to be?” That is the question one most often puts to children and which they very seldom allow to go unanswered.
Right here, we must draw a distinction between boys and girls. The girl’s first wish almost invariably betrays the influence of the sexual instinct. All little girls want to be “mothers”; some would be content with being “nurses”. The phylogenetic law of the biologist applies also to desires. The desires of individual human beings reproduce the evolution of mankind in this regard. Just as, according to research (Ament), the first speech attempts of children depict the primitive speech of man, so the first wishes of human beings depict the primitive wishes of humanity. Children’s wishes may therefore be said to be the childhood wishes of humanity and to manifest unmistakably the primitive instincts of the sexes.
The little girls want to become “mothers”. They play with dolls, rocking, fondling, and petting them as if they were children. In this way, they betray their most elemental qualification. My little daughter once said: “Mother! I want to be a mother, too, someday and have babies”. “I would be so unhappy if I could not have any babies!” Being asked whether she would not like to be a doctor, she replied: “Yes! I would love to be a doctor! But only like mamma.” That is, only the wife of a doctor. To understand the above, the reader should know that the German word for a female physician (“Doktorin”) is also the title whereby a physician’s wife is addressed.
In marked contrast with this is the fact that boys never wish to be fathers. That is: their fathers are often enough their ideals and they would like to be like them, to follow the same profession or vocation. But it’s only a matter of vocation, not of the family. I have never yet heard a boy express a wish for children. There is no doubt, however, that there are boys who like to play with dolls and whose whole being has something of the feminine about it. They have feminine instincts. They love to cook and prefer to play with little girls. In the same way, one also encounters girls who are described as “tomboys.” These girls are wild, unruly, disobedient, boisterous, and like to play as soldiers and robbers. One cannot go wrong in concluding that a strong, perhaps even an excessive homosexual element enters into their psychic make-up. At any rate, the biographies of homosexuals invariably make mention of these remarkable infantile traits. They are boys with female souls and girls with a masculine soul. Such boys may even manifest various disguised indications of the instinct for race preservation.
The first stage of girlish wishes does not last long. Usually, the process of repression begins rather early. The little girls notice that their desires are a source of mirth to their elders and that their remarks evoke a kind of amused though embarrassed smirking in the people about them. So they begin to conceal and repress the nature of their desires and disclose only what is perfectly innocent. And they tell us they want to become “maids of all work”, housewives. That does not sound as bad as wanting to be a “mother”. One can be a housewife without having children. As such, they go to market, manage the home, cook, order the servants about, etc. Then they are attracted by the splendours of being a cook. A cook is the goddess of sweets and delicacies and can cook anything she likes. On the same egoistic principle, they then want to be store-keepers, proprietresses of candy stores, pastry shops, and ice cream parlours. As such, they would have at their sole disposal all the sweets and delicious things a child’s palate craves for. To possess a store in which one can sell these wonderful delicatessens and weigh them out to customers is one of the most ardent wishes of little girls.
Of course, as soon as they go to school a new ideal begins to take possession of the childish soul. Up there in her tribunal sits the teacher, omniscient and omnipotent, invested with such authority that the parental authority pales into insignificance in comparison with it. Parental authority extends only to their children. But the teachers! She has command over so many children! With sovereign munificence, she distributes her gracious favours. She designates one child to act as “monitor” (oh, what exalted pre-eminence!); another may carry her books home; the third is permitted to restore the stuffed owl into the teacher’s cabinet, or to clean the blackboard; the fourth has the rare privilege of being sent out to purchase the teacher’s ham sandwich! And then there are the various punishments the teacher can inflict upon the children entrusted to her. Oh, it’s just grand to be a teacher!
But, above all, the desire is to rule over many. Have I omitted to mention the “princess”? Incredible! Only a few children are so naive as to betray this wish. But all would love to become “queens,”—ay, with all their hearts. The fairy tales are full of them. How the proud prince came and helped the poor girl mount his steed, saying: “Now you’ll sit by me and be my Queen!” Innumerable Cinderellas in the north and the south, in the east and the west, sit at their compulsory tasks and dream of the prince who is to free them.
All have one secret dread: To be lost in the vast multitude. They want to accomplish something and want to stand out over the others. Vanity causes more suffering than ambition. Soon, too soon, they learn that in these sober days princes do not go roaming about promiscuously as in the golden days of fairydom. But hope finds a way and soars on the wings of fantasy into the realm of the possible and yet wonderful. Are there not queens in the world of arts? Do they not rule like real queens their willingly humble subjects? Haven’t they everything that a queen has: Gold, fame, honour, recognition, admiration, envy? Almost every girl goes through this stage. She wants to become a great artist. A prima donna such as the world has never yet known; a danseuse, who shall have the tumultuous applause of houses filled to the last seat; a celebrated actress whose finger-tips princes shall be permitted to kiss; a violinist whose bow shall sway the hearts of men more than the golden sceptre of a queen ever could.
This dream runs through the souls of all girls. It yearly furnishes the art dragon with thousands and thousands of victims. The happy parents believe it is the voice of talent crying imperatively to be heard. In reality, it is only the beginning of a harassing struggle to get into the limelight, a struggle that all women wage with exhaustible patience as long as they live. And thus numberless amateur female dilettanti vainly contend for the laurel because they are so presumptuous as to try to transform a childish dream into a waking reality.
It is even more interesting to make a survey of what girls just past puberty do not wish to become. Not one wants to marry. (Reasons can always be found.) Not one wants to be an ordinary merchant’s wife. And life then takes delight in bringing that to pass which seemingly they did not wish…
In boys, the matter is more complicated. The sex urge is not manifested so clearly in them as in girls. It requires great skill in the understanding of human conduct to discover in the games that boys play the symbolic connection with their natural impulses. It is remarkable that boys’ earliest ideals are employments that are in some way or other related to locomotion. All little boys first want to be drivers, conductors, chauffeurs, and the like. Motion seems to fascinate the boy and give him more pleasure than anything else. A ride in a streetcar or a bus which seems to us elders so obviously wearisome is such a wonderful thing for a child. Just look at the solemn faces of the little boys as they sit astride the brave wooden steed in the carousel! “Sonny, don’t you like it? Why aren’t you laughing?” exclaims the astonished mother.
A child is still at that stage of development when motion seems something wonderful. Is it possible that in this a secret (unconscious) sex motive, such as is often felt by one when being rocked or swung in a swinging boat, does not play a part? Many adults admit this well-known effect of riding. This is in all probability one of the most potent and most hidden roots of the passion for travelling. Freud very frankly asserts in his “Contributions to a sexual theory” that rhythmical motion gives rise to pleasurable sensations in children. “The jolting in a travelling wagon and subsequently in a railway train has such a fascination for older children that all children, at least all boys, sometimes in their life want to be conductors and drivers. They show a curious interest in everything connected with trains and make these the nucleus of an exquisite system of sexual symbolism.”
Be this as it may. The fact is that all the little ones want to become drivers of some vehicle, that they can play driver, rider, chauffeur, car, train, etc., for hours at a time, that in the first years of their lives their fantasies are fixed only on objects possessing the power of motion, beginning with the baby-carriage and ending with the aeroplane.
This stage lasts a variable period in different children. In some cases up to puberty and some even beyond this. I know boys who have almost attained manhood who are still inordinately interested in automobiles and railways. In these cases, we are dealing with fixation of an infantile wish which will exercise a decisive influence on the individual’s whole life. In most cases, the first ideal loses its glamour before the magic of a uniform. The first uniform that a child sees daily is that of the “letter carrier.” In his favour, too, is the fact that he is always on the go, going from house to house. The “policeman” too, promenading up and down in his uniform, engages the child’s fantasy. So too the dashing “fireman”. Needless to say, all these are very soon displaced and wholly forgotten in favour of the “soldier”.
The love to be a soldier has its origin in many sources. Almost all boys pass through a period when they want to be soldiers. The wish to be a soldier is a compromise for various suppressed wishes. A soldier has been known to become a general and even a king. That fact is narrated in fairy tales, chronicled in sagas and recorded in history. One can manifest one’s patriotism. Then there is the beautiful coloured uniform that the girls so love—and one is always going somewhere. For one is never just an ordinary soldier but a bold, dashing trooper, and—this above all!—one has a big powerful sword. Under the influence of these childish desires, children plead to go to the military schools and the parents give their consent in the belief that it is the children’s natural bent that speaks. Why I tried to take this step when I was fifteen years old but—heaven be praised for it—was found physically unfit. My more fortunate friends who were accepted have for the most part subsequently discovered that they had erred in their youth.
The same thing happens with respect to the other wishes of children, whether they become engineers, teachers, physicians, or ministers. The voice of the heart is deceptive and rarely betrays the individual’s true gift. The biographies of great men may now and then give indications of talent manifested in childhood. But the contrary is also easy to be found. Very often hidden desires are concealed or masked behind one’s choice of a calling. I know a man who became a physician because he longed to go far away, to go to the metropolis. In youth, he had to be driven to practice his music—and yet the music was his great talent and he should have become a musician.
What our children want to become… seldom denotes that they have a natural aptitude for a particular calling. They are to be regarded only as distorted symbols behind which the almost utterly insoluble puzzles of the childhood soul are concealed. When we are mature enough to know what we really want to become it is usually too late. Then we are children no longer. But then we would love to be children again and shed a furtive tear for the beautiful childhood that’s dead. If we could be children again, we’d know what we would like to be. No illusory wish would then tempt us from the right path, luring us like a will-o’-the-wisp into the morass of destruction.
And this wish too is fulfilled. We become children again if we live long enough. But then, alas! our wishes have ceased to bloom. Over the stubble field of withered hopes, we totter to our inevitable destiny. Everything seems futile, for all paths lead to one goal. Then we know what children would like to become, what they must become.