Monday, July 16, 2018

Even If You Are Children



One could be excused if she were to come away from reading this blog with the idea that I'm not just pro-child, but also at least a little anti-adult. This is not true. After all, I am an adult myself. I like being an adult. In fact, if my fairy godmother presented me with a choice, I'd opt for adulthood in a heartbeat. There are certainly things I admire about children, like their boundless energy, short memories, and their ability to live for the moment, but I wouldn't trade away my adult advantages for any of it. Like I sometimes say to the kids, "The best thing about being an adult is that you get to eat ice cream whenever you want."

That's the part I would struggle with the most. As a young child, I was fairly sanguine, accepting for the most part the idea that grown-up got to be in charge because they knew more, were bigger, and had the money, but I could never go back, not from where I am now, a 56-year-old man who doesn't like to be told what to do. 

No, my gripe with adults, the one you find on these pages and the one that might lead readers to conclude that I'm down on grown-ups, is that I really have a problem with people who think it's in their purview to boss other people around, especially when those people are children. In many ways, this is why I write this blog in the first place, because I think a lot of this bossing around is of the unconscious, entitled variety: expectations of obedience, language full of commands, the imposition of punishments and rewards, the knee-jerk assumption that "mommy knows best," none of which I would accept if it were directed at the adult me. I write, I suppose, in the hope that I can help convince some adults, at least a little bit, that children might be inexperienced and smaller, but they are still fully formed human beings worthy of the same sort of respect due all fully formed human beings.

The other day, we were goofing around with Mo Willem's book Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, when we fell into a discussion about why it is that adults get to do all the driving, a complaint I picked up from William Steig's picture book entitled Grown-ups Get to do All the Driving. I was taking the side of childhood, insisting "It's not fair!" Some of the kids were on my bandwagon even as most of them were just playing along, understanding it as a joke. Others, however, pushed back:

"It would be too dangerous if kids drove cars. They would get into wrecks."

To which I argued, "Adults get in wrecks all the time! I think kids would be even more careful than grown-ups."

"Kids are too short. They can't see out the windows."

To which I argued, "Maybe kids could just sit on a stack of books!"

"But then they couldn't reach the brakes."

To which I argued, "Maybe they should just make kid-sized cars!"

"We don't know all the rules about driving."

To which I argued, "Don't you know what a red light means?"

"Stop!" they called out.

"Don't you know what green means?"

"Go!"

"Don't you know what yellow means?"

"Be careful!"

"Right," I argued, "it means be careful, but adults seem to think it means go faster because they always speed up when they see a yellow light. See? Kids know the rules better than the adults."

It went on like this for some time, a fun give-and-take, but I'll be honest, there was a part of me that was disappointed that more of the kids weren't taking my side. I suppose I should chalk it up to wisdom on their part because, after all, the last thing we need are a bunch of three-year-olds behind the wheel. Indeed, I reckon our world would be more livable if a bit of the kids' wisdom rubbed off on adults and lead more of them to abandon their vehicles, but that doesn't appear to be about to happen.

No, I like being an adult. I like that I can eat ice cream any time I want, even as I fully understand why loving adults sometimes feel they need to serve as a stand-in for a child's self-control. Still, we all know that the things we learn in childhood tend to stay with us as we grow into adults. Sometimes adults do have to say "No" or "Enough" or "I'm not going to let you drive the car," but my gripe is that we too often do it when it isn't necessary: expecting obedience instead of seeking agreement, commanding instead of striving for understanding, punishing or rewarding instead of trusting in the more certain lessons of natural consequences, insisting on being right rather than taking the time to actually listen to these smaller people who often see the world more clearly than we do.

That is the way I want to be treated and it's the way I try to treat the rest of you, even if you are children.


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