Saturday, November 23, 2013

When children speak, pay attention

You can learn a lot about the big things in life tuning in to what children have to say. Sex. Death. Cooking a turkey.
There’s a commercial on TV that has an interviewer seated with four precocious preschoolers. He asks a question and one monopolizes the conversation. The kid exaggerates a silly answer that you can barely understand in his attempt to be clever.
Am I the only one that doesn’t see anything funny in it? Children are a lot smarter than that … a whole lot more intuitive.
If you gather a handful of 7 year olds and you ask them to explain how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner, you will get honest, unbiased answers, plus a few more pieces of information on life in general thrown in for free.
That’s what’s so cool. Children don’t hold back. They tell it the way they see it: A turkey has messy guts, and you have to clean it out before you can begin cooking. That’s the truth about life in general.
One thing I can guarantee you. Listening to those kids will make you laugh you head off, and you will feel a whole lot better over the meal looming in your mind for 35 relatives that will be seated at your Thanksgiving table pounding their forks and cups.
Kids mimic Larry the Cable Guy and “Git-R-Done!” They don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all rather matter of fact. You put the turkey in the oven, and it comes out ready. Time and temperature … well, their guess is as good as any. It’s the adults that blow things out of proportion with worry.
A child will advise you, “Keep calm. Just don’t look into the oven. It will get done eventually.”
In the meantime, visit with the relatives that you’ve been longing to see. Life has a way of working out without second guessing it.
When I started teaching in a small rural district, I was required as part of teacher orientation to ride the school bus on the country route one time during the fall. I learned where my students lived, and it gave me a window into their thoughts. It made a tremendous impression upon me, and I believe that tour affected my relationship with children.
On that bus ride I saw huge dairy farms, and would come to appreciate the kids that told me that were up ahead of daylight helping in the barn before catching the school bus. They had chores after school, and time management was an absolute necessary. To no one’s surprise, they would be the most organized with completed homework, too. Farm work is family teamwork, and those kids learned the rules of life early on in practical ways.
Country kids are very realistic about life and death. They are in on the birthing process.
How I remember a girl coming in having stayed up with her dad watching a cow having a difficult birth. She could easily describe each sight and sound in the barn that made me feel like I was right there, whether I wanted to be or not. Her beautiful, vivid narratives about her assorted ponies and dogs were a treasure trove boldly revealing her inner self.
Proud 4-H students win prizes for raising calves and showing them at the fair. One boy had his folks bring his prizewinner to the school playground. He introduced us to Dolly and her blue ribbon. He had learned a lot about weights, measurements and keeping records on the job. And when it was time to sell Dolly to the highest bidder, the owner understood how his caring attention made it possible.
Country kids have that natural approach to death as part of life’s cycle. It might not be something that they want right then and there, but it happens. They see it on the farm day after day, along with the practicalities of the weather. They know how to mourn and when to move on. If only the rest of us could see things that clearly and not be such clingers.
On that bus ride I saw a few pretty ramshackle trailers, and I couldn’t imagine staying warm there during the winter let alone having running hot water.
I taught many children that needed an extra sweater to take home, and thank goodness the school nurse would have an amply supply to share without drawing attention to a particular child.
Often the case, though, they were the happiest ones not depending upon the niceties of life. They would be the survivors in the world — the ones who stop me today on the street introducing their wives (or husbands) and children. That humbles me knowing that they are making their mark in the world well.
Which brings me back to cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. Seven year olds inform me that you can hunt for a turkey in the back woods, or pick one at the supermarket — one that you can lift into the cart all by yourself. Ah, sensible kids learn self-reliance, and wise parents encourage it.
Hang out with kids and you have a repertoire of “Knock Knock” jokes right handy when you need to lighten the mood of a conversation.
“Knock. Knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“The turkey’s gone missing and joined the music band because he had the drumsticks.”
Play along. Kids expect you to giggle uproariously before you give the final loud groan.
World peace would best be left in the hands of children.
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