Love, one of my favorite words, has too many meanings. I’m going to have to invent a word for what I’m talking about in this article. Kinderlieb. It’s the kind of love healthy adults have for children. It’s the kind of love that inspires a lot of good parents, teachers, daycare workers, pediatricians, and more to try to be better at what they do. It is also responsible for a lot of hugs. But there’s something going on nowadays that is getting in the way of kinderlieb, or at least cutting down on the hugs. I guess it’s been going on for a long time, but either it’s reported more, or it’s happening more.
When I first came to Amherst, I naively approached a nearby school, explaining that I was a veteran teacher who wanted to volunteer to work with children. I didn’t bring letters of reference. After 25 years of teaching, mostly appreciated, and never once accused of having sinister motives, it had slipped my mind that my motives could be an issue. I thought I would be recognized as a gift to the school. Turns out my reputation hadn’t preceded me. I ended up starting my volunteer work in Northampton, where luckily someone who knew me had sung my praises.
Children trust me very quickly, and while I enjoy that trust, I’m aware that it’s precarious. Children need to learn caution, and as a teacher, I think I should help teach them that caution. Adults talk to strangers frequently, often with friendly voices, and sometimes make friends that way. Sometimes children see that happening, and it must be hard to understand in light of what they’ve been told: “Don’t talk to strangers.”
I’ve been having fun writing this column, but this is an issue that isn’t fun to write about. Amherst is a place where strangers strike up friendly conversations all over the place. People hitchhike, and people pick up hitchhikers. It’s a refreshingly naive town compared to any I’ve seen in the Boston area. Unfortunate things sometimes do happen here (to paraphrase Forest Gump), but the naivete seems to hang in there.
Frankly, I don’t know where to go from here. As I write to your children, and get letters back, I feel lots of kinderlieb. So far, one of your children (with you) came to visit me here. I think I hugged that child, and I hope that somehow that hug travelled back to Wellesley and was shared with lots of other children. We humans are always pointing out things that separate us from “the animals.” But one thing that binds us with “the animals” is that we have two basic motives – survival and preservation of the species. Kinderlieb has a lot to do with preservation of the species.
Love, Bob Blue