Many events in a child’s life ought to be noted as times in which a child steps closer to adulthood. Some are universal happenings while others depend on the way a family raises a child. Almost everyone acknowledges the significance in turning eighteen, standing in front of the green screen at the DMV for the license photo, and for me getting my ears pierced meaning I was mature enough to take care of cleaning them. Today one of the most momentous moments is that first job.
As kids, adults asked us, “and what are you going to be when you grow up?” And if you’ll remember you probably said something like, “An astronaut!” or “A fire fighter!” (probably because of the big, red truck and the explosive fire in the rocket). And only for those bold enough, “Superman!” Few children will say, “a secretary” or “business man” or “waiter.” Why? Because kids like to dream big. That first job they attack with enthusiastic energy ladling out ice scream by the cone all summer, mowing lawns with a spring in their step, and mimicking everything Dad or Mum does. They shove coins and bills into either that soda can for something sweet, or the most futuristic ones secure it in a bank in hopes of attending a prestigious university. Why college? To get that high paying job. Then what? It seems to me unhappiness ensues.
Kids flock. Like birds they swarm hungry for attention disregarding all rules of social behavior to gain attention, and so as I walked in the shadowy figure of their teacher along the narrow path into the woods, I began to hear the giggles and elated shouts of five and six year old children in the near distance. Soon I smelled the fire and smiled at their resounding laughter. I was field tripping into a kindergarten’s forest day—into their lair…their happy place.
As instructed to do so, a chorus of children “sang out” in unison, “hello Miss Kathryn.” I laughed, “Hey guys.” I sat down on the nearest open log and no longer was the outside kid looking in. I looked at the two children sitting on my left and right. To my left, two pairs of enormous blue eyes bulged up at me clearly curious and perhaps slightly in awe (about what I am not sure). To my left, a boy sucked on a s’more. Marshmallow and gram cracker stuck to his face, and a light layer of dust settled happily onto the sticky ring around his mouth. Though I noted all this, the observation period lasted for only a few seconds. Somehow a mutual agreement passed between the children sitting around the fire that I was safe to approach so that they all came tumbling up to me at once denying me the chance to get a word in edgewise. All I could do was look from one expressive face to another and listen to them throw up a humble-jumble of words.
Child 1: “Miss Kathryn, can we play chase?”
Child 2: “Miss Kathryn,”
Child 3: [boy pushes child 2 out of the way]”
Me: “Don’t…” [to scold for the push]
Child 4: [touches my shoulder]
Me: [Turns around]
Child 4: [Stares at me]
Child 5: You’re my best friend.
Me: “I just met you.”
Etc. I felt lost, blissfully lost overwhelmed, surrounded, by tiny fingers, filthy bodies, and big unconcerned hearts.
They say a presenter has 15 seconds to secure the audience’s interest. I have already taken more than that. With those kids it took less than five, and I do not say it to boast about anything special I had to offer to secure their rapt attention but rather to analyze the unusually open and big personalities that children have. I can already feel you, reader, asking yourself…asking me, “What the heck is she talking about?” “Kids. Woods. Personality?” I give you every right to think such thoughts, but I promise grant me time (more than 15 seconds) to present my words and then judge me by my work.
As you may imagine, festivities continued: tearing down forts, eating hot dogs, and climbing “Mt. Everest.” I carried several children from the rear up that “treacherous” mountain only to set them down and follow a beckoning little girl over to a precipice (a stone wall). Most decided to slip down the mountain over a layer of dirt moss and leaves. They climbed back up with happy smiles and stained pants.
I bent over from my perch on top of Mt. E and rolled an acorn cap around in my hand. Brushing the dirt from it I placed my thumbs in a butterfly position over the mouth of the cap, formed a triangle, and blew. Hard. A piercing whistle sounded, and all stopped their activities. Then, as before, they all flooded to me.
“What was that?”
“Can I try? Can I try?”
“Go find an acorn cap.” I told them showing the little piece of nature.
They turned to the ground. The quickest ones ran back to me holding their shells out from an outstretched arm. Pride smothered their faces. The others wiped leaves back and forth on the ground like a wind shield wiper not entirely sure what they were looking for but desperately trying to find whatever it was they were looking for. I gave a brief tutorial to those who had their caps in hand and watched them blow spit…all but one. Such determination lit his face. Eyes straight ahead. Cheeks puffed up. Knuckles touched together. I sat there beside him waiting, knowing he was close, readying myself to encourage or readjust his technique. None of which he needed for the whistle came clear and smooth. I grinned, “You got it!” He grinned back and kept blowing. Under Miss Hannah’s command we returned from the mountain many children clutching their souvenirs. On our way back some would stop, turn to face me, open their little fists revealing a sweaty acorn shell, and then keep walking.
People say that the presence of kids keeps one young. After one day with the kindergarteners, I felt like a little old lady tired but strangely happy. In the later days I missed them and their smiles, little quirks, and childish sense of humor. Now I believe those wise people with all my heart. Kids keep you young…but not in the way the world would think. True youth is not marked by body but by mind and by spirit. It is no wonder that Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little children.” The kingdom of heaven belongs to those with true faith…to those little children with a beguiling innocence. I imagine an old woman caring for her grandchild. The tot runs around out of reach shrieking with laughter every time the woman gets close. Though she cannot catch him, she waits for him, and she persists until finally the little one flops on the ground, sits down, and waits for her to scoop him up. We played chase, those kids and I, and is this not what we do with God?
In our rebellion and dismissal of God’s care for us we say, “God in heaven. I don’t need you. My kingdom comes, and my desire will be done on earth. I earn my daily bread. I forgive no one but myself. I walk the path I choose…this is my life. I do what I like. ‘I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.’” But then we break like the exhausted child and gasp for breath on the forsaken earth where we fell, then we close our eyes begging for death when God scoops us up and carries us home to The Kingdom. Then we pray, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. They will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”
I spoke of growing up. Previously I spoke about the earnest desire to work hard and well and dream and achieve! And I ask now what happened to that childish energy and enormous dream?
The difference between the child running from his or her parent and us, individuals fighting for position, comfort, and wealth in this society, is that the child plays with life and the individual fights it. The child runs where the wind pushes always with a smile on his or her face because he or she knows his parent will chase after with a jealous watchful heart. When a child know just how much he or she is loved that child only has room in his or her little heart for pure peace and energetic bliss to dwell. It seems to me (for I have already begun to feel the way society does about work) that the individual wakes morning after morning slapping the alarm clock, going to work, sleeping, slapping the alarm clock, going to work VACATION…drudge of Monday etc. etc. etc. Where is the play? Where is the happy smile? Where is the confidence and assurance that Daddy or Mommy is going to support you? Every child knows Daddy and Mommy, Grandma and Grandpa will always love them, always catch them, always carry them (and when age gets to interfere with an adults strength the grown up carries emotional weight for us). Most individuals grow old and forget how to play. They forget that reality, work, and responsibility (not pressing snooze) does not mean lack of laughter. Reality and work in the real world means bigger play grounds, more play mates, MORE STORIES and more laughter.
Take it from me, someone somewhere between childhood and adulthood fighting not against life but against the negative view of work and life. I watched happiness in its purest form that day next to little children, and they reminded me how I ought to live. I almost forgot how to do what they do. I watched them play, laugh, tear down, climb up, color, fight and immediately make up. When I see a child, I see God; pure faith, perfect trust, utmost joy, laughter. Youth is not something the rosy, energetic child possesses but youth is possessed by light-spirited man or woman. Old age is not marked by year but by a pessimistic attitude and self absorption. Youth comes in finding peace that surpasses all else—peace found in trusting God with the burdens of life. And if youth comes with peace and laughter then we all find immortality on earth to be experienced in heaven.