I work at a preschool a couple of days a week. I know that these kids ranging from one to five-years old will eventually grow up to be adults with jobs and receding hairlines and mortgages and wrinkles and car payments, but right now they’re just as quirky as can be, and I adore them.
It’s crazy to me that every grown-up—every accountant, cashier, librarian, car mechanic, U.S. senator…everyone—started off as a weird, funny kid. They all had a favorite thing that held no real value but meant the world to them. Maybe it was a lovingly shredded baby blanket or a ratty stuffed animal or book they demanded to have read to them so frequently that it had to be taped and re-taped back together again. As a toddler, each of them probably had a day where they just wanted to carry around this one matchbox car or tube of chapstick or empty tissue box, and if someone tried to peel it from their chubby little fingers, they would howl and carry on like it was the end of days. They all refused to eat some type of food which they would eventually tolerate if not grow to like. (It’s curious how often those same kids who turn up their noses at broccoli try to eat the dryer lint they just fished out of the trashcan.)
For about an hour of the time I’m working at preschool, I sit in a big playroom and watch classes of kids cycle through. It’s meant to be a break for their teachers and an opportunity for the kids to practice sharing and cleaning up and, most importantly, learn through playtime. They are absolutely fascinating to observe. I love to see how they work together or play alone. As long as they’re being kind and thoughtful, there’s no wrong way to build with blocks or play in the kitchen center or line up the Fisher-Price animals.
When our youngest son Ezra was around 7 or 8, anytime we were on a family trip and we had to stay in a hotel, Ezra would get so excited when he saw the room had a desk. He would instantly want to play “Office.” We would unplug the desk phone (so no random calls would be placed) and line up to talk to the “Office Man.” Ezra would ask us, “What’s your problem?” and we would make up some dilemma. It was amazing. This same kid who struggled to tie his own shoes (assuming he could find them first) was solving problems like it was his full-time job (which, according to him—Office Man—it was). Lost dog? Office Man would call up somebody who could find that dog in no time. Feeling under the weather? Office Man would find medicine (which looked a lot like torn-up pieces of hotel stationery) that would cure you in an instant.
Unfortunately, this hotel-office-vacation game, along with so many of the things we enjoyed when we’re younger, fails to captivate us in the same way when we get older. We become too mature, too sophisticated, and too busy for such childishness. Maybe that’s one of the best things about being around young children. Even though I’m absolutely in the adult phase of my life, I can still pretend and play. I can lose myself in a silly game. For a few precious moments, I can recapture the feeling of being a child, care-free and quirky and limited only by the boundlessness of my imagination.