“John, my Mom got a new car and we’re taking Alex to the doctor in it!”
“Hey John, my Mom gave us Fruit Loops for a snack!” This is Laura, my neighbor. Laura tells me everything that’s happening in her life, usually at the top of her lungs and running towards me at full tilt. She’ll skitter to a stop, still talking, ignoring the limits of personal space any other civilized person might acknowledge. This is not to say she’s uncivilized; she’s five, and exuberant.
“Jjjjjooohn. Wewewewe got Ffffruit Loops.” says Alex, Laura’s little brother, stuttering in that curious way some three-year-olds have when they’re just learning to talk, and, also corroborating that Fruit Loops rumor. These two little people comprise my fan club.
Emerson said one of the marks of success was winning the affection of children. This is because children only include in their world the things that give them pleasure. It’s certainly an ego boost to get ranked right up there with Fruit Loops.
For whatever reason, all of my life I’ve gotten along with small children and animals better than any of the larger examples of the population. Even my closest adult friends can be characterized as play babies: They would much rather garden, watch movies, and play musical instruments than have a productive day in the office. It’s pretty clear I’m an over-aged kid who refuses to give up stuffed animals and the sandbox.
Still, I realize that some might think it questionable, or even suspicious that a grown man counts among his friends a five and a three-year-old. We’ve grown paranoid in this last decade, and it’s a shame. Sure there are kooks and nuts in the world. There also are many men who enjoy children -- their enthusiasm, curiosity, viewpoint, even their tiny voices. This is no cause for suspicion, but nonetheless, we are all suspicious.
Allison, my oldest, had a wonderful kindergarten teacher in the person of Mr. Leonard. He left a successful career in the defense industry in his mid-forties to become a teacher. I’m ashamed to say that, during the summer prior to kindergarten, I thought it odd that a man would teach children that young. A man teaching the upper grades seemed perfectly normal to me, but why, I wondered, would a man choose to teach small children? I have never been more wrong. Mr. Leonard, now retired, was a warm, caring teacher who, for the 20-odd years that he taught completely understood the five-year-old mind. He was a perfect match for Allison, and we were so lucky to have him teach our child.
I recently spent a productive afternoon putting covers on the windows of the chicken coop with Laura and Alex taking turns handing me screws, holding my hammer, or fetching things from my toolbox. They’re a perfect age for this sort of thing. My Kathryn, going on five, kept passing on her turn to help. My kids have had plenty of chances at “helping” to the point where they now think of helping as work. But Laura and Alex helped with intense concentration, and later I thanked their mom for the use of her kids. “Sure, any time,” was all the harried mother could muster, never having seen that side of her children before.
An adult’s relationship with a small child has special dynamics which I can’t begin to fully understand. When I look at Alex fully in the face, he grins at the attention, then suddenly turns embarrassed and retreats a few steps. What is it he sees that makes him blush? What does he feel that overwhelms him? I wish I knew. I suspect it has something to do with him being so small, and me being, to him, so big. As a big, clumsy, oafish adult, I can only sense something is there through Alex’s reaction, the way scientists detect the smallest or most distant parts of the universe by their reaction to something else. I wish he could tell me. By the time Alex grows up, he may have it forgotten. I know whatever I knew, I forgot.