Come as children
O men, grown sick with toil and care,
Leave for awhile the crowded mart;
O women, sinking with despair,
Weary of limb and faint of heart,
Forget your years to-day and come
As children back to childhood’s house. — Phoebe Cary
Today I invite you to set aside a few moments for remembering what it was like to be a child. Are you able to step back in your imagination and experience it through a lens unclouded by the years that have passed since? If you can manage it, you might find yourself moving back to the present with a slightly different focus.
It’s a mistake, of course, to see childhood through overly sentimental eyes; if we think of it as a time that was easy or consistently happy, we aren’t remembering accurately. Childhood is difficult in many ways, and it’s much harder for some than for others. But the powerlessness we experience as children, the nagging insecurities born of knowing how much lies just outside our understanding and ability, is balanced by the sheer wonder at things we haven’t yet grown accustomed to seeing.
Grady’s parents tell us that one of his first spoken requests consisted of a single, insistent word: “Outside!” He loves being outdoors, and notices things we adults stroll past, with our eyes focused high above his head. We are looking farther out, into the direction in which we are headed, and don’t usually notice what’s right at our feet.
Like most children, Grady isn’t in that sort of a hurry. Recently at my parents’ home in Georgia, Drew asked him if he wanted to go down to the garden and help compost some yard waste. I don’t need to tell you his answer. In fact, it was much easier to get him down there than it was to talk him into coming back. He wasn’t eager for “outside” to be over.
If he was moving slowly to begin with, he stopped in his tracks when he heard the neighbors’ goats bleating in the distance. He was entranced, and wanted to see them. “Goats!” he cried, and it was not a statement, it was a request. Drew told him that we couldn’t see the goats because they were in their shed at the moment. Grady kept crying for the goats, and Drew kept patiently explaining. I’m not sure Grady understood what a shed was, let alone that the goats were confined in it, but he did seem to conclude that we were not refusing him anything that was in our power to grant him. With a last sniffle, he changed tracks. “Bunnies?” he asked hopefully.
Children grow accustomed to having little say over many areas of life, and Grady is no exception. He’s quite good at moving on from disappointment. Once he started back down the trail to Granny’s home, he found other things to capture his interest, and the whining ceased. Clearly, he understood that crying over deferred requests was a waste of time; there were too many other things to enjoy.
Whenever I find myself daydreaming about childhood, I come back to the present refreshed, happy to be an adult with a considerable amount of discretion over my circumstances, as well as power over my own attitude about them. But I do bring with me the awareness of what it was like to believe ardently, to trust completely, to explore joyfully. I remember again that dandelions and clover blossoms are pretty, no matter what grown-ups say, and seeing a bunny or squirrel lightens my heart, even if they are munching on my carefully tended plants.
In most ways I believe the years have been a friend to me, but along the way I definitely accumulated more baggage than I intended to bring into old age. You are welcome to join me in temporarily setting excess baggage down and forgetting the years for a short time. Put on your play clothes and tennis shoes — or just go barefoot. I’ll race you to the garden!