Sunday, May 17, 2009

With A Child's Heart

From my bedroom window I can watch the street in front of the house. In the mornings I like to watch the kids who walk to the school up the street.

Have you ever really watched kids? Their expressions, the way the interact with each other? The way the shy ones kind of hang back from the others? The way the bolder ones test and flaunt their confidence? The way they all know how to hide their feelings behind clothes and makeup and attitude?

One of the kids I see every school morning is a boy, about 12 years old. He's that kid with the glasses and non-descript clothes, the kid none of the other kids really pay attention to. They don't seem to notice him even when he's walking right behind them. It's like he's invisible. I almost think that's his super-power: invisibility.

I never really noticed himself myself until three or four weeks ago. He was walking by the house and dropped a bag he was carrying. I saw the way he stumbled when he leaned over to pick up the bag. Saw the way the way that little inconvenience seemed to be almost too much for him. He picked up the bag and then just stood there for a couple of seconds, trying to deal with a frustration. I wondered what was going through his mind. I had to wonder what his life is like to make him seem so weary at such a young age.

This kid always looks like he's got things on his mind. When he looks at the other kids - the ones who laugh and joke and play around on the way to school - I can't name the expression on his face. It's as if he's just suffering through, moment to moment, getting by. Waiting. Surviving the passing of time.

Is he a book-smart kid, I wonder? Will he get through school and have a better life as an adult? Look back on these years and be stronger for having dealt with this childhood?

I wonder if anyone in his family understands what it is to be him during this growing-up time. I hope that someone is encouraging him and giving him something to be glad about in his heart. I hope there is a really good and caring teacher who recognizes the child this boy is. A mentor, a lifeline. I hope that life doesn't wear him down before he can find a place to fit in this world.

The other kid I notice is this girl who tries too hard to be hard. I hate to say it, but I look at her and I see her a couple of years from now being too grown, too hard, too much. She's not a pretty girl. There's nothing pre-woman cute about her. She's already tough, mad, irritated. One day I watched her reach out and just shove another kid as hard as she could. When the kid stumbled and dropped all of his things on the ground, the girl laughed and swaggered away. I guess she is a tough girl. A mad girl. Sad and bitter.

These kids are so young, but not young like when I was around 12. These kids are young and stale already, as if life wears on them harder than it did on kids when I was young.

When I was 12, 13, 14, I was still playing with dolls. I can't even recall when I quit making cakes in one of those little ovens with the lightbulb for baking... I remember being 12 and still being in awe of a cousin who was 16. I remember feeling young and feeling protected by my youth. When I was young there was still so much mystery about what it meant to be "grown."

These kids I see today understand being grown before they get there. Their eyes and hearts and souls are already old and worn out. Or at least that's what it seems like to me.

At my niece's graduation barbecue last weekend, one of the guests was a school friend of hers. This child is 16 and has one infant child and is pregnant with another. She's not scared, she's not overwhelmed. She's five or six months pregnant and so nonchalant about it. She came to the bbq with her boyfriend and her mother. She wore tight knit capris and a tight, form-fitting tee. She seemed unaware that I was just fascinated by her situation. She's 16 and, to me, she seemed so old and seasoned. Nothing is a big deal to young people today.

I told my sister recently that I can't imagine being a young person in today's world. I wouldn't feel safe or protected. There are a lot of things I complained about when I was young, but I'm glad I grew up in a time and with a family that allowed me to be young. I'm glad that when I was a child, society made it okay for me to be a child, act like, think like and dream like a child. (And I grew up in a world where there wasn't even the idea of having a black president. I grew up when women and other minorities didn't have the comfort of the freedoms they have now. I can remember driving with my family through small towns where blacks were not safe after dark.)

Somehow, while we've made so much progress as a society, we've lost as much as we've gained. What good have we done by giving children so much when we've taken away the freedom and desire to be children?


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