I like children—all kinds—short, tall, fat, skinny, freckled. I like them with scabby knees, scraggly hair, broken arms, and chocolate-covered faces. I like them when they have ice cream running down to the elbow or when they’re trying to wheedle a dime out of dad. But best of all I like them when their hands are busy, their voices laughing. I believe that a little child will surely lead us if we can just keep track of him long enough to find out where he’s going.
Children bring their own joy with them: “Gee, mom, the baby’s feet are so tiny.”
Children add humor: “Mom, shall I pour the rest of the water from the ladies’ luncheon glasses back in the bucket?” Or, after informing my son that his shoes are on the wrong feet, he replies, “But Mom, these are the only feet I’ve got!”
They keep us humble: “Hey, mom, when I grow up I’m gonna be a nice mom—like Mrs. Hofheins.”
They force us to learn: “Mom, tie a half hitch in the rope, okay?”
And to teach: “Mom, where do baby kittys come from?”
They require the development of patience: “Hey, mom, Morgan just gassed up the lawnmower with root beer.”
They teach us to handle a crisis: “Mom, Brooke just fed the fish—Ajax.”
They help us to appreciate life’s duller moments: “Gosh, mom, we’re real sorry we can’t get you out of the handcuffs. But don’t worry, the police are on the way.”
Our religion holds that an inescapable condition of entrance into divine fellowship is that we become as little children—tender, meek, unspoiled by the hard skepticism on which we so often pride ourselves.
Every day I learn more from my children than I teach them. Several years ago, I took my oldest children to the beach in California. My husband, Howard, wasn’t able to go, and after four days I was hot, miserable, disgusted, and ready to come home. My children, on the other hand, were having a wonderful time. They thought the beach wonderful and would have stayed all summer. After some deliberation upon the difference in our attitudes, I realized that we were experiencing different vacations. While my children explored the earth, I watched the world.
A child unknowingly opens a better world to you. Anything a child gives is beautiful—any absurd, imaginative thing. A child never realizes that because he has so little to give, each small thing is everything. A child teaches us by experience that it is better to love than to be loved. Their gifts are given in the naive and innocent joy of giving: some prize flowers from the neighbor’s yard; a mud pie baked at “Leaf Society” especially for you; a sincere compliment: “Mom, you cook the greatest peanut butter sandwiches.”
We can’t solve the world’s complicated problems with childishness and fantasy, but we would all do well to develop some of the vision that sees the world as a simpler place. We should see simple truths as simple. My oldest son once had a quarrel with the neighborhood bully, and for the umpteenth time he came home bawling and bloodied. In desperation and exasperation I said, “Well, for heaven’s sake, slug her back and maybe she’ll leave you alone.” Brett’s reply was, “I can’t, Mommy. Jesus said we should love one another.”
Children. I’ve learned that having a baby is not the most difficult part for me. It’s the next twenty years that are difficult. (I had decided to have a dozen kids until I went downstairs and discovered Morgan and Brooke burying their dirty socks in my house plants. But when I look at little Nikki, sleepily dragging on a bottle, I wonder if I’ll be able to stand not having a baby around.)
Children find unique uses for common items. One morning as I was getting ready for an appointment, Brett made a slide on the kitchen floor with a gallon of shortening. If it had just been on the floor, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but he had smeared it all over everything, including our Siamese cat. Following instructions to let the cat dry off after his bath, Brett soon had Koko going round and round in the clothes dryer.
Patience and a sense of humor seem to be the most important qualities for a parent to have, whether the family has one child or a dozen. At the end of a particularly hectic day, I look back and review the disasters: I have stopped the baby from eating the cat food four times, rescued the antihistamine bottle from Dallan, put Brooke’s clothes back on three times (once in the grocery store parking lot), fished a bag of marbles out of the cake batter, and frozen the nineteen cans of applesauce my son opened while trying out the electric can opener. I complain until I am sobered: a woman says to me, “I would surely love to have your little problems. I have no children.” Or I talk to a friend of mine who has had four children; three have died of cystic fibrosis.
I count my blessings: six beautiful, normal children who have eyes to see the shortening can and the cat food, hands to unscrew light bulbs, legs to help them get up to snitch food in the middle of the night, and minds to think of drying a cat in the clothes dryer. Then I know I have no problems.
When my son says to his dad, “I’m going to be your fishin’ buddy,” or my daughter tells me she is my “little sweetheart,” or my baby plants a wet smack on the end of my nose, I think, sanity be hanged! And I realize that through children we may find again the kingdom of heaven in our hearts.