14 February

Dear Connie,

Interesting idea in your column today. You’ve inspired me, and I think I will write up something for my Web site. The general idea will be as follows:

Yes, children can for a time free grownups from the confines and pressures of the stagnant adult world. How? They seem to have an innocence we lack. Why? They haven’t had the time to build up suffocating beliefs about the world.

So do we really need to be around children? No. We can, as responsible adults, do the things we need to do (read, write, paint, make furniture, cook) or study the things we need to learn (philosophy, psychology, literature, religion, film, dog-grooming) that break us out of that stagnant, over-determined world of belief we’ve built up for ourselves.

This is why the study of belief is so important: It allows us to have one foot in the adult world (The Plain Dealer, marriage, parenthood, bill-paying) and another foot in the muddy boot of a 5-year-old (Rumors of Order and Nightsiders). Think of your exchange with John Robert …  

JOHN ROBERT: I have everything up in my head.

CONNIE: Everything?

JOHN ROBERT: Yup. Sometimes I can’t keep it all up there.

CONNIE: Maybe you ought to let a little bit out.

JOHN ROBERT: Good idea.

“Good idea” indeed! Think of those Web sites: John Robert has nothing on me. Sadly, he's probably on his way to becoming and exemplary drone … unless those people in the flannel shirts are creative, courageous and open-minded.

The moral of this story? You don’t need to be around 5-year-olds when you know how to muddy your own boots. If I can do it, you can too. Just squash the beliefs that have you stuck in the boring adult world. Tromp around in the mud. It’s fun!

Your little friend,

Jon Patrick (you don’t have to use both names)

A clear view through children's eyes
Monday, February 14, 2005

Connie Schultz
Plain Dealer Columnist

 Children sure have a way of saving us from ourselves.

 The train ride through Virginia was almost three hours old when I looked out the window and groaned at the sight of the one thing I was sure I'd left behind in cold, gray Cleveland.

 Snow. Big fat flakes of it, splattering my view and settling in for a rest on every tree branch in sight. I was just about to let out a groan that could scare a bear when two young children sitting right behind me began screaming.

 "Mommy!" they yelled. "Mommy! Look! It's snow! There's snow out there!"

 Their mother stood and smiled apologetically to all the other adults on the train.

 "We're from Florida," she said. "My children have never seen snow before."

 Nearly everyone erupted in appreciative laughter as the twins squeezed together in one seat and stared.

 "Oh, Mommy," one of them gushed in a stage whisper. "I almost can't believe my eyes."

 Blessed be the children.

 Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Maybe I've seen too many grown-ups acting like they're still in diapers. Or maybe I'm just bracing for my own baby's impending graduation from high school. Whatever the reason, I feel a need for young children in my life.

 I'm not the only mother of a teenager feeling this way.

 Just last week, Cathy Wolf from Bay Village told me the best decision she's made in some time was to take a part-time job in a kindergarten class. She has four children of her own: two in college, the other two nearly grown. She took the job to help a disabled child. What she hadn't counted on was how much a roomful of 5-year-olds would help her.

 The class was about to go on a field trip. "OK," said the teacher, "everybody get a buddy."

 What happened next moved Cathy to tears.

 "Everyone gravitated to the same sex because that's what you do in kindergarten," she said. "Girls held girls' hands, boys held boys' hands, and they didn't give a moment's thought to what they were doing, that there should ever be anything wrong with that. It was so pure, so totally innocent. They were just so excited to be with their buddies.

 "We need to be like them. The world hasn't ruined them yet, and just think how we'd be if we were like them instead of turning them into us."

 All that from spending two hours a day with 5-year-olds.

 I keep running into my own fair share of 5-year-olds who take one look at me and just know I need a break from the grown-up world. Recently, I was sitting in a small bookstore in Mansfield, flipping through the pages of yet another book on the world's woes, when a child suddenly stopped right in front of me.

 "This here's my best coat," he said.

 I looked up and saw the tiny face of 5-year-old John Robert. Those are his first two names out of three, he said, and he prefers that new people use both of them. It seemed to be a reasonable request, so I nodded.

 He pointed to a man and woman a few feet away.

 "My mom and dad," he said. They wore flannel shirts, a sure sign of trustworthiness in folks south of Cleveland.

 "They look like nice people," I said.

 John Robert nodded, pointed to his hair. "I've got everything in my head."


 "Yup. Sometimes I can't keep it all up there."

 "Maybe you ought to let a little bit out," I said.

 "Good idea," he said.

 There's a whole lot of living that goes on in the imaginary world of John Robert. Other adults nearby grew quiet as he started talking about the 80-foot-high crane he operates on Saturdays, only Saturdays. He has to run it all by himself, too, but he doesn't mind because he only works on Saturdays and some people have to work all week.

 "I got it easy," he said.

 I pointed to his muddy boots. "Nice."

 "They're dirty," he said, frowning.

 "Well, you're a busy boy," I said.

 He sighed, slowly shook his head.

 "I've been busy since the day I was born."

 "Tell me about it," I said.

 And don't you know it? He did.


 © 2005 The Plain Dealer. Used without permission.


©jonfobes 2005