607. About Growth

When children are actually children, many of us adults start out getting to know as much as we can about them. We get used to knowing what they consider fun, what bothers them, what will make them laugh, and so on. And many of us love them for who they are. We see them grow, and at first much of that growth is relatively steady, predictable, and enjoyable. Much of what isn’t so predictable is nevertheless often pleasantly surprising. So at least at first, growth is exciting, and it’s something we mostly encourage.
Sometimes, in fact, we want growth to hurry up and happen. As our children mature, some of the milestones start to feel more and more important if they don’t happen as soon as we want them to. Many of us can’t wait for our babies to sleep through the night. Later on, we can get tired of helping our children accomplish other tasks that other children their age seem to be able to do without help. Patience is good, but so is progress.
Preadolescent and adolescent years are chock-full of growth. But it’s often unsettling both for those who are growing and for those who see it happening; not all changes are fun to experience, and not all of them are the kind observers were hoping for. Maybe neither children nor we had been aware of wanting any changes to happen; children are often quite content to be children, and the people who know them often have the “don’t ever change” mentality.
People do change, though. They grow up, and they grow in lots of other directions, too. I mean their minds, although their bodies also go through all sorts of changes, most of which affect their minds. Since we’ve been through what adolescents are going through, you’d think we’d understand. But a lot of us didn’t understand adolescence when we were going through it, and don’t understand it now, either.
I’m watching as the children I work with begin to show signs of preadolescence. They like movies I don’t like. They like music I don’t like, some of which I don’t feel like calling “music.” They still seem to like me, and think I’m “cool,” but I’m in the generation of some of their parents and some of their grandparents; I’m not really “with it” (or however that’s said nowadays), and I don’t pretend to be. In essence, I’m part of “the older generation.”
But I love these children; I care about them. So next year, when they go to fifth grade, I’ll go with them. And eight years from now, as they’re finishing high school, I’ll still be with them. I want to understand what it means to come of age in this culture, or if it’s not something that can be understood, I want to help them deal with the turmoil. And then, in September of , I’ll go back to first grade and try once more to help children grow up. I’ll let you know if I make sense of the process. Meanwhile, I take some comfort in knowing that though the Latin word for “growing” is “adolescens,” the word for “grown” is “adultus.” And really, we’re both both.

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