Our theme for the month of March is “Part Two.” Writers were challenged to choose a piece they’ve previously contributed to the post calvin and revisit it, perhaps writing a sequel or reflecting on how things have changed.
Jenna’s original post is “You Look Happy to Me.”
When I was a child, I was very introspective, with funny but reflective ideas. Nothing illustrates this better than the time I sat alone on the swing in my backyard and sent a message to my adult self. Using all of the psychic force I could muster, I looked my future person in the eyes and said, “Don’t forget me.”
I loved being a kid, and I think it was my steady diet of children’s literature like Peter Pan and The Chronicles of Narnia that warned me of the day I would inevitably grow up and forget everything and scoff at the ideas of my childhood self. Apparently this caused me a good deal of concern and I was determined to fight it by a sort of cerebral time-travel, and apparently it worked. I can still see my little self literally speaking into the future to my current self. Don’t forget me. I’m still here. I’m always going to be a part of you.
Maybe she’s what keeps bringing me back to working with kids. Seven months ago I was teaching rock climbing in Romania. Today, I’m teaching English in France. I didn’t study education, but I keep finding myself back in some vein of pedagogy.
For one of my English classes, I was asked to teach a lesson introducing human rights. I found a simplified version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I read it out to them so they could hear my pronunciation and accent.
I read words like, “Every man, woman, and child on Earth is born free and equal in dignity and rights. We are brothers and sisters of this world. We have reason and conscience and should be friendly towards one another.” And, “You have the right to move throughout the world,” “the right to go to school,” “the right to marry and have a family.”
I’m honestly not sure how much they understood, or cared. But I know that when I read those words over them, I had to stop myself from getting teary-eyed. I realized this is what draws me to this work. I love standing in front of them and telling them all of the things they deserve in life. I love smiling at them and seeing them smile back. I love speaking gently and respectfully to them, and seeing them (for the most part—I mean, there’s always that one kid, right?) respond with dignity.
Because here’s the thing; I am so absurdly uplifted by these people.
Part of this is spurred by the hope and possibility I feel when I look at them. There is so much potential there, so much optimism for the future, so many good things just waiting to bloom. But I don’t want to stop there. If you put a kid’s value in all of the things they might do in the future, that becomes something they have to search for, and chase, and worry about catching.
By all means, tell kids that they have potential, just don’t forget to remind them of the worth they have right here, right now.
I’ll never forget one of the sweet little boy I looked after on a summer nanny gig who looked up at me with earnest eyes and perhaps a touch of pity and asked, “wish you been a kid and had all these good ideas like me?”
Kids say funny things. But more than that, kids say marvelous things. Sure, they are the future, but they are also the present, and they make the world so dang bright.
When you’re an adult, it’s easy to become condescending and dismissive towards children. I’m guilty of it too, but I’m just here to ask: can we stop that? Because, really, we reap what we sow, do we not? Treat a kid like he’s an annoyance, a problem to deal with, and he will inevitably become exactly that. Yell at her and she’ll yell back. Ignore his words and he won’t pay any attention to yours. But treat a kid like she’s your equal, someone whose company you’re glad to hold, someone with a unique point of view and ideas worth sharing, and she will blossom.
I think when we look down on children it’s because we have momentarily, or perhaps chronically, forgotten that little kid inside earnestly whispering, “Don’t forget me. I’m still here.”
It comes down to the walls we build between us. Of course there are differences amongst us all, but do those have to lead to hierarchies? I have a deep aversion to walls of division, to barriers that separate and split, to narratives that place some people over others. I can no longer stand the rhetoric of people being “in” or “out,” as if the human experience was a fraternity or a country club.
It’s easy to think that we’re gardeners, tending our crop of gentle or unruly plants, but that’s not really true. Flowers don’t grow into farmers, they just grow into older flowers. There’s not as much separation as we might like to think.
When that little boy asked me that amazing “wish you been a kid and had all these good ideas like me?” question, I’ll admit that I laughed. When I answered, though, my words were honest: “Yes, yes I do.”
Jenna Griffin loves foreign music, old cookbooks, public transportation, and sunsets in new places. After graduating with degrees in writing and French, she is spending her first post-grad year as an English teaching assistant in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France.