I am not a child. However, I couldn't help but identify with the exceptional documentary Chasing Childhood, co-directed by Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld, that explores the unintended consequences of overparenting.
As an adult with significant disabilities who also works within the field of disability, I see every single day the profoundly negative impact of a system that often further disables the very individuals it is designed to empower. Adults with disabilities are often infantilized to the point where a productive, meaningful live becomes nearly impossible.
While Chasing Childhood is certainly not about my world, this connection immersed me in the vision created here and the extraordinary ways that vision is brought to life. Chasing Childhood takes us on a journey to three communities that are trying to do things differently by shifting their culture to create room for childhood play and independence in the hope of creating kids who will become competent, healthy, and happy adults.
As a child with a disability, I was surprisingly not particularly sheltered. Oh sure, my life was incredibly structured and a team of healthcare professionals fought to ensure I would defy the odds and survive. But, the growing tendency toward inclusion was in its infancy and most people hadn't a clue just how much to expect from a child with a disability. I was in the first class of mainstreaming in the 1970s. It was long before IEPs and segregation ruled the lives of kids with disabilities and it was well before "graduating" was replaced by a diploma, a certificate of completion, and various other ways we've found to overprotect, overanalyze, and basically coddle our kiddos.
I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful the system didn't "know enough" yet to shelter me.
While special education existed, it wasn't the behemoth it is now. I was in traditional classes. Other than being told Industrial Arts was too dangerous for me (they'd obviously never seen me with a sewing needle), my life was surprisingly ordinary. I did afterschool activities. I fell and busted my chin trying to climb the monkey bars. I rode the school bus with everyone else even though I used crutches and had to climb the steps.
At home? I had a paper route. I worked. I played. I went around the neighborhood. And yes, I had my share of failures, a few traumas, and obstacles along the way.
The world explored by Chasing Childhood is almost jarring yet it feels undeniably true and familiar.
There are people in Chasing Childhood that I simply adored, perhaps none more than Lenore Skenazy. Skenazy is the enthusiastic yet compassionate founder of Let Grow and the author of Free Range Kids. She speaks to children and talks up to them. You can feel in her voice and see in her body language just how much she respects their being and their intelligence and their opinions. She speaks to parents and she speaks to teachers and she speaks to community leaders. You can see her light up when those around her "get it" and it's hard, perhaps impossible, to not completely agree with her. Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult is another voice of wisdom here whose presence is compelling.
We meet parents as well, perhaps most notably Genevieve and Rob Eason. The Connecticut-based parents of Savannah enthusiastically embraced their daughter's relentless academic pushing not recognizing, perhaps, the mental strain it created that would at least contribute toward her experiences with mental illness, self-harm, and addiction. Genevieve now pushes now as an activist/educator to create a different type of childhood and she takes her voice into schools just like Savannah's.
Chasing Childhood is a consistently engaging and emotionally resonant film with tremendous lensing by Justin Schein and an effective, atmospheric original score by David Cieri. Mary Ann Toman's editing is precise and allows us to really encounter these people and their lives.
Chasing Childhood has already proven to be successful on the festival circuit with upcoming screenings at Julien Dubuque International Film Festival and Sarasota Film Festival following appearances at fests like DOC NYC, Portland International Film Festival, Sonoma International Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, and Annapolis Film Festival.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic