Learning from the innocence of children
I remember the day I found out how babies are made. I was 8-years old and in the third grade. I was traumatized and one aspect of my innocence was shattered. This is the story of how it all went down.
I had a crush on Katie
I remember the day well. It was a rainy day and morning recess was called off. No one likes indoor recess – and I mean NO ONE. Teachers don’t. Kids don’t. Parents don’t (they are the ones who deal with the pent up energy when the kids get home).
But this day was different. For over a week I had been trying to think of ways to ask Katie to be my girlfriend. Katie was average height, had
flowing brown hair, golden brown eyes and olive coloured skin. The usual things weren’t working with Katie. She was playing hard-to-get. Asking her friends to ask her out for me were falling on deaf ears.
Writing a note that read:
Will you be my girlfriend? Circle one:
Yes No Maybe
...had no effect on her. It was time to be creative.
Katie was playing hardball and I was going to have to ask her myself.
With 30 of us stuck inside the classroom on that rainy day, I had a clear objective. She couldn’t run away like she could if we were on the playground, so I knew if I could get her attention I was in. I saw her standing at the board games cupboard by the rain-speckled window. My heart raced and my knees grew weak as I approached her and attempted to strike up a conversation about something she might be interested in.
I stood there gawkily and looked into her rich, golden brown eyes.
After a few seconds I mustered up a bit of courage and asked: “Did you see G.I. Joe this morning? Sergeant Slaughter saved everyone. The Cobras had no chance. It was reeeeeaalllly cool.
She looked back at me and then down at a board game called Sorry that she was pulling off the shelf.
“No. I didn’t see it.” Katie said softly.
“Oh.” I replied. "Next time."
It was time to revert to my backup plan.
“Did you see Thundercats this morning?” I asked. “It was on after G.I. Joe. Cheetara and Lion-O make a good team, don’t you think?”
“I didn't see it but yeah, I guess so. I mean, I don’t know.”
She started walking away with the game Sorry in her hands. How telling.
I had one last trick up my sleeve. It was time to peacock. I puffed my chest out and spouted off a bout of boastful verbal diarrhea:
“Katie! Wait! Do you know I’m the fastest kid in our class? I’ve never lost a race in field day. I’ve won all the blue ribbons for the 50-yard dash and 100-yard dash since Kindergarten. This year I’m going to win the high-jump in 4th grade next year. I’m really good at soccer and baseball too. I’m really smart. I can spell big words like cardboard and giraffe and newspaper. I have really strong calf muscles. Want to see?”
"Surely this will do it", I thought to myself.
But Katie smiled at me and said the five most painful words a kid can hear in a situation like this:
“I already have a boyfriend.”
“Yeah! She’s already got a boyfriend!” another girl chimed in out of nowhere. “She’s going out with Jeff. SORRY!”
Katie walked away. I was wrecked. I stood alone with nothing but images of Lion-O and Sergeant Slaughter in my mind to keep me company.
Comfort from a friend
My friend Garret saw my recent rejection and walked over to asked how it went. Garret was my best friend growing up. He and I used to have a lot of fun on our three-month summer vacations. We used to have the same babysitter all summer long so we would do things boys in rural Michigan like to do – things like shoot bee-bee guns at birds on powerlines, build rafts and float them down the river, throw apples at each others’ heads, dam the river, watch movies we shouldn’t, try to catch snapping turtles and ride our bikes around terrorizing the neighbours.
So when Garret walked up to me I knew I had a friend to keep me company.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Not good,” I said. “She’s going out with Jeff.”
“That’s too bad.” Garret said. “Maybe you can ask her again next week.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I said dejected, looking down at my bulging calf muscles.
“Do you know how babies are made?”
Garret turned to me and looked me straight in the eyes. I don’t know how to explain the look
he gave, but the best way to explain it is that it felt like he was going to teach me a lesson – like an air of superiority had come upon him and he was about to share some deep secret that only he knew. It was the same look he had when he told me 1) Santa Claus isn’t real and 2) I can only go to Heaven if I jump in front of a car to save someone’s life.
He was real fount of knowledge.
With that look he asked (but it was really more of a probing statement):
“DO YOU KNOW HOW BABIES ARE MADE?”
“Yeah. I already do.” I said confidently.
“Well how?” he smirked.
He had me beat and he knew it. I still responded.
“Well… a mom and a dad pray for a baby and God gives them a baby.” I said with conviction.
“Hahahahaha! NO, that’s not how!” he said.
“Well how then?’ I asked. I had NO clue.
And then he told me.
I stood there speechless. My bubble had burst – BIG LEAGUE. I thought a baby just appeared in a woman’s belly when she prayed to a Higher Power. I was clearly mistaken. There was another step involved here that I had never considered and…
I’ll leave it there for now.
What kids teach us
I realise I was clearly wrong about human reproduction, but there is something innocent and inspiring and shameless and pure about how a child sees the world.
Kids teach us about innocence. They teach us about trust. They remind us of the things that
really matter – things like family, fun, friendships, and play; not things like work, money, status and notoriety. They remind us that, if we are honest, we are vulnerable and need one another.
Some of us just hide that reality better than
others. Some of us have just become better at pretending.
If you are a teacher or a parent, ask your kids about the world’s problems.
How would they solve them?
How would they solve human trafficking?
Fights with friends?
How would they resolve international disputes?
Write it down!
I’ve got a quote book of funny things my past students have told me or that I’ve overheard kids saying in my school – just to remind myself not to take everything so seriously. If you’re a parent or work in schools you can probably list off a number of hilarious things you’ve heard from kids!
Take some time to ask your kids how to fix problems – big and small. Ask what matters most to them and why.
Because they’ve got plenty to teach us… just not about how babies are made!
Later that day on the walk home from school, I told Katie's brother (a friend of mine) how his sister could have a baby. He was even more shocked than I was - only his reaction
turned to anger and he started a fight with me about it. I'd clearly hit a nerve.
My brother saw this and ran ahead of us to tell my Dad I'd been in another fight with Katie's brother. After the dust had settled and I got home, my Dad was waiting for me and made me made me tell him why I got in a fight. That was an interesting conversation. Let's just say I didn't use the correct biological terminology.
I'll share that story next week.
As evidenced by this incident (and countless others), I've learnt how and when it is appropriate to share "useful information" (both personally and professionally)... and sometimes I've learned the hard way!