A friend and I were out with our kids at a local – and purportedly kid friendly -attraction, where we were glared at, told in no uncertain terms to keep our kids quiet, and instructed not to let them run by attraction staff. (Each of these things more ridiculous than the last, especially when you consider that at the front door of this attraction is a gift shop with a gargantuan display of rainbow hued candy, and that the venue itself is a nature conservatory consisting of four huge glass walled pyramids filled with plants, waterfalls and long windy sidewalks, making it resemble a giant indoor park). At first I was embarassed, and tried to shush and slow down my little guy (he is definitely a kid that veers towards the, um, enthusiastic side of things). But then I was really annoyed. I’m still really annoyed. They were just being, well, kid-like.
Which brings me to the thing about kids. We don’t actually like them. Now before you jump all over me, I don’t mean I don’t like them. I like ’em fine (most of the time!). I mean, our larger culture doesn’t like them. Hear me out on this one.
Sure, we’re baby crazy. We watch faithfully for celebrity baby bump alerts and wonder which of our friends will get pregnant next. We delight in baby showers, baby names, baby things, baby pictures and engage in all kinds of baby over-consumption. We read diligently read scads of baby books, but how many people do you know who actually do the same reading about child development?
We really don’t value children. We see evidence of this on a larger scale, for example, our most developed nations have appallingly high rates of child poverty and we think nothing of the fact that those we task with taking care of our children make ridiculously low wages. On a smaller scale, we are vexed by children’s endless energy; annoyed by their volume and exhuberance; inconvenienced over their predisposition to avoid things we think they should do, like sleep and eat vegetables; and we are most certainly ill-equipped to handle the hugeness and wildness of their constantly changing emotional development. (For instance, I recently learned that our dopamine levels – that’s the happy chemical – are the lowest at the ages of 2 and 14. Really, this says SO much about the wildness and unpredictability of emotions that come out of our two year olds – and 14 year olds, obviously!)
We glare at parents whose children melt down in public. We shoot dirty looks at parents whose kids talk too loud, move too fast, or otherwise break social codes of civility. Why can’t those darn kids behave, we wonder? Why can’t they talk instead of shout, walk instead of run, sit still once in awhile, listen the first time, pay attention. Why do they stubbornly dig in their heels in defiance? Why do they tantrum?
But what we really mean is, why can’t they be more like us? More, well, adult. We like to think we have an appreciation for childhood. Childhood is the best time of our lives, we say. But have you ever heard someone say, “Oh don’t be so childish” to a child? I have. It says a lot, I think.
Children are imperfect, messy, impulsive, loud, whimsical, exhaustingly-always-on-the-go, accidents-waiting-to-happen. They say it like they see it and feel their feelings unabashedly and with gusto. They need room to move, freedom to explore, and space for their voices to be heard (however loud those voices may sometimes be). It’s as often exhausting and frustrating as it is cute. But they only get to be kids once. Why are we all in such a hurry to train it out of them?
The fact that my friend and I were glared at and reprimanded at a public place designed to be an educational facility for folks like kids speaks to the lack of spaces in the world that kids can be themselves. If children were valued – if we actually liked children – we’d let them be kids from time to time.