Since when did we… ?: Things kindergarteners taught me

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Everyone tells me that there’s a lot to be learned from the elderly. In a pursuit of life answers, I take to volunteering in the senior center, and without fail, every time I volunteer there, more or less the same thing happens: I would get asked my age, to which I would truthfully respond. Upon hearing my response, their reaction would inevitably be:

“Wow! I swear, children these days are getting smaller and smaller! Wouldn’t you say so, Darlene?”

I’m not saying I hadn’t learned anything valuable from them, for they definitely given me some wise advice. But surprisingly, another age group has also given me a fair share of wisdom: kindergarteners.

“My mommy is much older than you,” one child proudly declared upon learning my age. “She’s 46!”

Well, I would hope so, I silently thought as I handed them their dinosaur-shaped backpacks and mused over their purity.

The privilege of having been able to work with both our elders as well as the future generation of edgy teenagers has enabled me to realize that while our elders offered a wealth of lessons from experience, children are able to offer an equally rich set of lessons that make us wonder, “since when did we…?”

One: … stop being fully content with ourselves?

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about younger children is that they are very open to compliments and acknowledging their strengths and efforts. They often proudly show their crafts to their parents, and fight to answer class questions, perfectly okay with yelling out a wrong answer.

Reflecting on my own dead silent SAT class, I can only wonder when we stopped fighting to raise our hands. Since when did we start feeling discontented with ourselves, distrusting compliments, and insecure of our own answers and creations? Why should we be afraid of being wrong even if sometimes, there is no right answer to begin with?

Two: … stop openly dreaming?

In watching little kids play, one notices that it takes very little to keep them entertained because they have one thing that we tend to lose with age: the courage to share and accept the imaginary.

Running around the playground, they squeal with delight as they knock down imaginary fortresses and defeat the giant snakes. They came running up to us, eyes sparkling with delight as their paper airplanes flew up onto the roof and “into outer space!” They told us they wanted to be pilots, and artists, and gymnasts. They told us they wanted to be dancers and chefs.

When did we stop daring to say we wanted to be doctors or lawyers or engineers and pursue that?

Three: … stop telling people we appreciated their existence?

There is nothing sweeter to see on a Monday morning than a 4 year old, barely above knee height, reaching up to hug his parents goodbye. Or a younger brother blowing kisses to his older brother as his mother takes him home. Now, there are too many people who regret lost chances to say things to people they loved, when children might never have that fear as long as they remain children.

Four: … stop letting yesterday be yesterday?

On my second day of working with children, I had run into my first dilemma: a crying child.

“My brother hit me,” the child said, choking on his tears.

“I did not,” the older brother protested, launching into an angry explanation of how his younger brother always blamed him for things he hadn’t done. A hug, an apology, and a mild 30-second lecture later, the two brothers were happily playing a board game together, spinning around and laughing as their team was starting to win.

Albeit deeper circumstances, why can’t we do the same now? What makes it so hard to get over pride and apologize, forgive and forget? Communicate clearly and immediately? Why do we allow relationship issues with our family and friends sit for long periods of time?

While I suppose I am not considered “old” by any means, I hardly think I still possess the childlike naivety of pre-high school days. I, and many of my peers cannot safely say we are all necessarily content with who we are as we were when we were children, nor can we confidently declare our wildest imaginations to the world. All too often, we choose to avoid displays of affection out of embarrassment, and let the yesterday drag on into today. Even if there is no way to go back to the mindset of a kindergartener, we can certainly learn from the wonders of their innocence just like we learn from the elders’ lessons of experience.

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