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As Little Children  June 6, 2005

Miranda PJ — June 6 @ 9:44pm

At church on Sunday we sang, “I Stand All Amazed” for the sacrament hymn. I’m the type that mumbles through hymns and mostly just listens. Immediately behind me a voice rang out, singing beautifully with grace and enthusiasm. I wondered to myself who the singer could be until I was able to steal a momentary glance at its source. Much to my surprise, it was one of the MIA Maids in the ward. I remember when I used to sing like that.

My son Park graduated from preschool today. That and the beautifully singing MIA Maid and the post at Times and Seasons about the role of mothers has made me nostalgic for childhood. It’s customary to talk about how children approach the world with a sense of awe, but they really don’t—not generally.

Christmas morning brings presents from a fat man who drives flying caribou and climbs down chimneys. The truth of this Santa story is as painfully obvious to most children as the reality of the presents they open. No sense of awe there. That’s childlike.

When my daughter Emily was learning to swim, she loved for me to throw things into the pool so that she could swim out, dive to the bottom, and get them. This simple pattern of retrieval made her so proud. One day, on my way out the door I grabbed the metal beaters from an old mixer to throw into the pool. After several successful retrievals, the beaters just plain disappeared. Emily was terribly disappointed that she couldn’t find them. I kept reassuring her that it didn’t matter, but her failure to retrieve them ruined her day. She cried herself to sleep that night over those lost beaters. The next day she awoke as cheerful as ever and ready for a new day. That’s childlike.

I watch my daughter interact with her friends at school. She’s so happy just to be with them, smiling from ear to ear, leaning to listen, trying to speak up every now and then, but usually failing to get a word in edgewise. She’s not unsure of herself, she’s just a little shy. She’s so different from me. I love to be the life of the party, and when I see how she struggles, my heart goes out to her, until I realize that she’s her own person, and this is what makes her happy.

To be a child is to have hopes and expectations, to be trusting, to suffer disappointments and remain resilient, to feel happiness, all the while unfettered and unspoiled by suspicions and ulterior motives and cynicism. To be a child means to have a courage that few adults have, a courage to face the world again and again with determination and without affect or pretense. It’s tempting to think that we lose this when we learn to cope with the world and its difficulties, but that’s just rationalization. Christ tells us that “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

So when do we accumulate all of this baggage? We’ve all got it. At some point, we started walking around puddles of water instead of stomping through them. At some point, I started mumbling through hymns. At some point, it became routine to cage anger and frustration so that it could seep out in snide asides.

Every now and again we must try to shed the bitter scales of our cynicism. I don’t know how I’d ever be able to do this without the help of children.

11 Comments

  1. This is a pretty great post on a topic that can quickly turn sentimental. Thanks!

    I’m going to quibble with your assertion that kids don’t see the world with awe (hey, I studied comp lit at the Y, too–that’s what we do).

    My almost 5-year-old recently found out how babies really get out of mommies tummies. (We’d been dodging the question because she’d exhibited some distress at other mommy-related biology. But she saw an episode of “A Baby Story” that TiVo had grabbed after The Magic Schoolbus–I know, I’m a terrible parent–and apparently saw the whole thing.)

    Anyway, she was so excited–awed, I’d say. I asked her how she felt about it and she responded enthusiastically, “Great! I always wanted to know about babies and vaginas!”

    By the time we get to the age where childbearing becomes a reality, I’d say few of us react with such enthusiasm. I know my wife didn’t. But our little one was entirely awed.

    And I think it’s precisely that awe–that sense that the world is quite literally amazing within it’s own logic–that enables our children to get up each morning and do it all again. To put it all churchy, they have access to that mystery that we seem only rarely to glimpse: that the world can be a most amazing, most wonderful place. That’s precisely why Santa Claus can bring presents from the North Hole (my little one doesn’t believe he lives at the Pole) and it can be no big deal.

    Because kids still believe that the world is amazing. It is a place, quite literally, of awe.

    Justin H — June 6, 2005 @ 10:59pm
  2. Interesting, Miranda. Did you give your son your maiden name? And what happened to the beaters? They couldn’t have just disappeared, right?

    Your take on childhood tastes about right to me. I don’t have many episodic memories from my childhood, but I do remember the intensity of my childish humiliation: once in kindergarten I dropped a paper while I was standing in line, and for some reason this was deeply humiliating to me–I started burning and blushing and the whole bit. Then there was the time I wet my pants in second grade (really!)… Mercifully I’ve blocked most of that one out, but the feeling of hot and then cold on my legs, and then hot blush and cold tears on my cheeks… that’s stuck with me.

    Rosalynde — June 6, 2005 @ 11:13pm
  3. Sometimes it seems to me that I remember everything. But here’s just one episode from first grade:

    My ears stuck out terribly when I was very young (though I never noticed; what are ears to a 6 year old?). My ears stuck out so badly, in fact, that my parents had them fixed (plastic surgery was much less common then, and so it was in-patient; the doctor who performed the surgery was actually the hand specialist that had sewn my right index finger back on after I’d managed to get it cut off about 2 years earlier; but that’s another story). After the bandages came off, I went home and then back to school. For about a month, I had to wear one of my mother’s stockings over my head to keep my ears pressed back while they healed. It was in the winter, so I wore a knit wool Washington Redskins cap over the stocking. We used to have recess with the 1st through 3rd grades together. So one day, I walked up to one of the second grade teachers and said, “Look, I’ve got pantyhose on my head!” and I pulled off my knit wool cap. She didn’t know about my surgery, so this struck her as inappropriate. She promptly demanded that I remove the stocking, and I just laughed at her. She fumed over to my 1st grade teacher to demand that I be punished, only to find out about my recent surgery.

    Lucky for my parents, I ended up in some other teacher’s 2nd grade class the following year.

    DKL — June 6, 2005 @ 11:39pm
  4. “To be a child means to have a courage that few adults have, a courage to face the world again and again with determination and without affect or pretense.”

    I think you really got something here, Miranda, but I think it’s easy to see how the determination to face the world can be lost or stolen from children. There’s a thin line between the courage you speak of and being foolhardy, and the vulnerability that accompanies such courage often leads to both children and adults being victimized. When that happens losing the courage to face the world is not only a defense mechanism, it’s smart. I wish we could shed the bitter scales of cynicism like you suggest, but I think in most cases it’s nearly impossible.

    SeptimusH — June 7, 2005 @ 2:56am
  5. To reduce the vulnerability that foolhardy courage may bring them, children should carry daggers. Well, I’ve been reading Peter Pan this week.

    John Mansfield — June 7, 2005 @ 7:22am
  6. Wonderful post.

    I didn’t find out how the baby got out until I had my first child. I was a pretty stupid young woman. What a cheap thrill that was. Nobody told me and I didn’t ask. Can you imagine?

    annegb — June 7, 2005 @ 9:56am
  7. Justin, I think you’re right that children suck up knowledge like sponges. It’s a sign of the failure of our education system that it makes many children hate learning.

    Rosalynde, I wanted to name our son Park, after my great grandfather on my mother’s side who fought in the Civil War. His name was Park Reese. But Eric was absolutely against it, because Park is my maiden name. We ended up naming him Parker and we just call him Park. As far as the beaters, you always have a way of getting at the funny side of a story. I wish I could hint at something by saying they closed up the pool shortly afterward, but they didn’t. I really don’t know.

    DKL, consistency is so important. Thanks for demonstrating that you’ve always been a sociopath.

    SeptimusH, the tragedy that you describe happens too often, and it’s what all good parents try so hard to protect children from.

    John Mansfield, I’ve always felt that there was something vaguely Lord-of-the-Flies about Peter Pan. I’m glad you see this, too.

    annegb, I’m glad you like the post. To think of how innocent you must have been. You call it a “cheap thrill.” I admire the courage reflected in the sense of humor that you have about it. I was the girl in all my grade school classes that was always letting everyone else in on all the secrets. If you’d have been my classmate, you’d have found out where babies come from early.

    Miranda PJ — June 7, 2005 @ 12:49pm
  8. “Thanks for demonstrating that you’ve always been a sociopath.”

    LOL!!! :)

    Jenn — June 7, 2005 @ 12:55pm
  9. I fail to see how a child with big ears is a sociopath.

    annegb — June 7, 2005 @ 7:39pm
  10. I was just commenting on how DKL bated and then ridiculed that poor teacher, annegb.

    Miranda PJ — June 7, 2005 @ 8:06pm
  11. HA, LOL, annegb. That was hilarious!

    Funniest. Comment. Ever.

    Justin H — June 7, 2005 @ 11:14pm

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