Make it a mission

Monday, September 22, 2014

Yesterday, while my cousin Tippy and I were sitting at the bar of a favorite local watering hole, I told her I felt like I’ve lost a desire to shine in a group of adults. That’s because you’ve been spending so much time around kids, she said.

What do you mean? I replied.

She explained. Kids want the best version of you, and they want it upfront. Inherently, kids want to like you. Kids tend to like the things about us that we like about ourselves, and that happens because they expect an honest interaction with us–it’s what makes sense to them.

In the adult world, it’s the opposite. We play games to avoid what’s really going on. We wait for proof that we can trust each other. Adults are harder to impress. We tend to write each other off before we even realize it, and until we’re given a reason not to. We, as adults, search for ways we can fit in. When we meet people, we look for ways we can fit them into a mold that makes sense to us. When we can’t figure them out, or classify them, we’re thrown off.

It’s true. As we grow up, we become self-conscious of everything we do, and we spend a lot of energy trying to get back to the essence of ourselves. We forget to play for the benefit of playing: for the joy and the creativity play brings. We guard our hearts. We let our negative experiences chip away at our best parts, we blame each other for our behavior, and somewhere along the line, we adopt the ultimate, pervasive mistruth that we, as humans, are unlovable.

Tippy used to teach art, and she noticed a distinct shift at the fourth and fifth grade level. At this age, kids go from uninhibited, unique expression to more socialized behavior when they figure out pretty quickly that they’re better off if they can fit in. It is the great, dangerous disservice we give when we stop truly seeing each other. And alarmingly, this happens the first time when we’re very young.

I taught second grade last week. The class was a group of 25 native Spanish speaking students who spent our whole 20 minutes of recess catching ladybug pets and counting their spots and trying to pocket them without me noticing. After an ESL teacher came in to teach their science lesson, I read them a story in English about dim sum. If you listen well while I read this, I’ll read a second book in Spanish, is what I said, thinking they’d be motivated by the thought of watching me fumble through with my heavy American accent. Of course, they were sweet as pie during the very short English story. So I picked up the Spanish book and drew a very deep breath and whispered down to the cover of book, here we go.

Once I’d finished a page, I’d glance down at all their beady-eyed faces sitting cross-legged on a big multicolored carpet and they’d start softly clapping, encouraging me along. Man, that book was loooong. By the end, my tongue was tired. That was really hard for you! breathed a boy somewhere in the tangle of them as they all went back to being kids and wiggling out the previous ten minutes of stillness, which, to a second grader, probably feels more like ten hours. It was, I said. But you cheered for me, and I could feel it.

These pure and natural reactions from kids, untinged by the burdens of life experience, are what I wish we’d all have access to on a more consistent basis. What we can learn from kids by treating them with respect is, as it’s been said, a sort of earthshaking serum for our collective conscience. I guess what I’m getting at is this: if you take away anything from this post, I hope it’s that you’ll soon have the opportunity to make a child feel seen. Make it a mission. What you get back is beyond. When you’re done, go create something. Anything! Like a pizza, or a drawing of your rubber band collection.

pizza

Elsewhere:

We Can Create.

Turning the Soup Kitchen Upside Down

To make: Moroccan Roasted Beets, Gingerbread Man Smoothie, Slow-Braised Pork Belly

Still trying to master the perfect poached egg? Me too. Have you tried this?

Happy Sunday.