My daughter is an early childhood teacher. Typically she teaches first grade, but the last couple of years she’s taught kindergarten. This has been a crazy busy end of the year for all four of the kindergarten teachers at her school and I offered to put together the kindergarten graduation slide show to help ease the load a bit.
The photos were the typical shots of the kids doing what kids do during the school day. There were well over a hundred pictures and each one showed one or more really awesome students. I’d love to show you the slideshow, but I can’t for privacy reasons.
The one thing that struck me as I was putting the video together was the obvious joy that of life and learning that each of the youngsters had. Each and every one of the pictures had a kid with a smile or a look of wonder as they did something fun or exciting. Somewhere during that process, I found myself thinking back to a time decades ago when I was that age.
I can remember very clearly a time just before I started kindergarten. There was a big tree in my back yard and I often sat under that tree playing with my construction trucks, moving dirt, stones and Lincoln Logs from one place to the next while I built an imaginary town. For some reason, as I was building a house between two massive roots that jutted out from the tree trunk, I started wondering about what it would be like to be grown-up. I started to think about how great it would be to do what I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it and not have to ask my mom for permission.
That led me to thinking about how you became a grown-up. I knew that you had to be big, but I also knew that growing up involved more than size. As I sat there, pushing my trucks from one place to another I came up with a list of things that I had to master before I could be an adult. I’m not sure that I remember them all, but I do recall that the list included:
- I had to be able to dial a telephone (one of the old rotary phones at that time).
- I had to be able to ride a bike without the use of training wheels.
- I had to be able to chew gum without swallowing it.
- I had to be able to cross the street by myself.
- I had to be able to tie my shoes in a bow.
- I had to be able to count money when I went to the store.
Now, that’s not an all-inclusive list but, through the eyes of a five-year old, it’s a reasonable start to reaching adulthood.
Sometime later, I remember passing on my observations about being a grown-up to my grandmother. She listened intently as I recited my requirements and, when I finished, she said, “That’s a good list and it won’t be long until you can do all of those things.” Then she added, “But, don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up. Sometimes being big really isn’t as good as being little.”
I don’t know that I consciously followed her advice. But I do know that over the years I’ve held on to being a kid more than some of the other adults I know and, at my age, it’s probably too late to put much more effort into growing up. As a matter of fact, I think maybe I’m going to put some effort in to turning back the clock a bit this summer. I think I’m going to make a new list of things that I need to be able to do to reclaim just a little bit of my youth:
- One afternoon, I’m going to go buy a half dozen comic books, find a big oak tree with a spider web of massive roots jutting out and sit under the tree reading my comics.
- I’m going to get up early one morning and pack a sandwich, an apple and a Hires Root Beer in a day sack to take along on a hike in the woods…any woods as long as the path doesn’t lead to civilization anytime soon.
- I’m going to go find an old rusted bicycle, preferably one with high rise handle bars and a banana seat. Then I’m going to take it all apart, sand it, repaint it metallic cherry red and put it all back together. Just like I did when I was twelve.
- I’m going to build a plastic model of a 1969 Mustang Boss 302, my favorite car. I already have the kit. It’s been sitting in my office un-assembled for over twenty years.
- One evening, I’m going to take Linda fishing. We’ll find a quiet place on the lake where we can spread a blanket and throw in a line. Then we’ll lie on the blanket and watch the stars while we plan what we’re going to when we grow up.
To meet the expectations of society, we may have to pretend that we grow up. But there’s nothing stopping us from making that only a veneer. Someday, I hope that someone will take a candid picture of me that shows the same sense of unbridled joy of life and wonder that I saw in the faces of those kindergarten students. It would be sad to think that we have to lose that as the years pass by.
Yep, my Gram was right. Growing up is overrated and being around people who haven’t done that yet has to be exilerating. I bet kindergarten teachers live longer than most of us.