510. Little

I remember the first time a very young child came to me and started a story with “Mr. Blue, when I was little…” I did manage to keep myself from laughing out loud, but I thoroughly enjoyed hearing that opening line. There I was, over twenty years old, hearing a six year old child reminisce about a time when he was “little.” Now, that child is over thirty, and I’m approaching fifty. Probably, we both now consider people in their early twenties to be comparatively “little.” Perspective may not be everything, but it’s a lot.
In a way, it takes a long time to become a six-year-old. You have to learn lots of things, some of which are awfully hard to learn. I know people who work with children younger than six, and they sometimes think of six-year-olds as graduate students. And to me, having spent most of my career teaching second and third grade, sixth graders are “big kids,” even though many of them look pretty small when they’re in the company of adults.
When I’m shopping and I see a third grader I know well, it’s usually a little disorienting; I suddenly see this person as a child, even though working with her/him in school often makes me forget how young he/she is. When I work with a child, especially as a volunteer, the work we do usually makes me temporarily forget about our age difference; the child feels like a colleague – a comrade – in the task at hand. I occasionally have to remind myself that I’m working with a child.
I’ve already written about the importance of realizing that you’re a grown- up when you are one – of coming to terms with whatever your age is. But in another way, it’s important to realize that all people, regardless of age, have pasts they can remember. They can reminisce, regret, learn, and whatever else they want to do with their histories. The history of a six-year-old may seem brief to an adult, but that six-year-old probably can’t remember being born. And so, from that child’s perspective, six years ago was a long time ago.
I hear wisdom in some of what I hear from my daughters, and my parents tell me they hear it coming from me. It feels a little strange hearing wisdom from people you remember teaching to talk, but it also feels good. It’s proof that the energy we put into teaching and parenting was well spent.
I no longer feel the urge to laugh when I hear a young child refer to the time when he/she was “little.” Everything’s relative, and there was indeed a time when that child was smaller and younger than she/he is now. And that’s when that child was “little.”

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