The things our children teach us! Our two daughters, four years apart, besides teaching us about open-eyed wonder and unequivocal acceptance, demonstrated what amazing capabilities children often have in the arts, creative use of language, memory, and deductive reasoning.
Our eldest daughter, K—, having been at Custer Battlefield Cemetery for my brother’s funeral when she was two and a half years old, remembered it and sang out, “I’ve been at that place,” when a documentary came on television a year later.
The previous Christmas K— been told to open the door when we knew Santa was outside waiting. Later, in August, when I asked her to answer the doorbell (I was five feet away bogged down in packing boxes for our impending move), her memory surprised me. That summer day she put two and two together and asked, “Why? Is it Santa Claus”?
At age nine, after one year of piano lessons, K— was to compose a melody of her own. When she created a complex composition using augmented chords, I was astounded. With almost perfect pitch, she could sing almost any song that she’d heard a few times. Lyrics, though, could be troubling. She sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, assuring me her teacher had sung it the same way: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling down the village where the grapes of wrap are stored.”
Words, music, and memory still fill her life today, as a musician and speech pathologist. The lyrics of her life are inspiring and beautifully expressed as she meets life’s challenges with grace, new ideas, and hope.
Our younger daughter, H—, had an unabashed acceptance of all people and life’s opportunities from an early age. her elementary teacher wrote on her report card that she was inspired by how H—accepted every person equally and seemed a born diplomat. “I want to just be myself, and I think everyone else should be themselves too,” H— said.
At age five, when I interrupted her fuming and throwing toys in her room, she told me, “It’s okay to be mad. I just need to express it and get it out.”
H—was undaunted by life’s challenges. When she knew Gramma had given her older sister a camera for Christmas, and given her a sleeping bag, she asked Gramma why she didn’t deserve a camera too. Gramma explained that a camera would be coming to her when she was older, but she was too young. “But,” H— reasoned, “You can’t take pictures with a sleeping bag!”
Once, visiting Gramma on the farm, H— had gone across the road to two boys her age (six) she saw playing in their front yard. Off she went, boldly expecting acceptance. My brother and I watched through the window, fearing her rejection and bruised feelings. We had grown up on that farm with an alcoholic father, and had suffered social isolation and awkwardness as a result of it. “Look at her,” my brother said. “I could never, ever do that!” I agreed I couldn’t either and held my breath as H—came back home alone. We asked her what happened. She matter-of-factly shrugged, “They weren’t that friendly, but I’m going right back. With that, she popped her red baseball cap on her head and crossed the road again, this time to stay and play with the boys for an hour.
When H—, as a first grader, got in trouble on the playground at school for attacking a fifth grade boy who had been picking on her fifth grade sister, she was philosophical about it. She stated the facts adamantly to her teacher, decrying that her actions were justified and that she should not have to go to the principal as she’d been ordered. Her teacher, to her credit, told her that she had a good argument and should present her case to the principal. H— trotted down to the principal’s office and calmly stated her case. He was impressed, and he exonerated her, with a mild warning that she should bring concerns about bullying on the playground to her teacher or him, rather than solving it herself. The principal told us how impressed he’d been at her articulate self defense. We all predicted this girl was going to be a lawyer. Turns out we were right.
Lessons my children taught me are, I’m sure, similar to what other parents have learned. Without children’s open-minded curiosity and acceptance, enthusiasm, compassion, and unfettered deductive reasoning, the world would be a worse place. May we celebrate and cherish the special gifts they bring to our lives, that they may lead us to a better tomorrow.