I had a conversation with my four year old a few weeks ago. It was early in the morning and he had come up into our bed for a cuddle. We were looking out the window at the sky, and everything felt so calm and peaceful I thought it might be a good time to talk to him about his little brother. “I know it’s hard to play with your brother sometimes because he’s so little, but soon he’ll be bigger and he’ll be able to do all the fun things you can do,” I said.
“When will he be bigger?” my four year old wanted to know.
“Well, we are growing all the time,” I explained. “We get a little bigger every day. You’re growing too, getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And one day you’ll be bigger than mommy!”
He thought about it for a few moments as we looked out the window at the bright morning sky. And then he asked: “Mommy, will I still fit inside the house?”
Of course I laughed, because this is one of those moments you think you are having a conversation between two people and then suddenly, like running smack into a sliding-glass door, you hit the reality of the child’s mind, the four-year-old reality. The funny thing was, he wasn’t concerned. He didn’t ask the question with a worried look or anxious voice as he faced a potential future of growing, like Alice, bigger and bigger, too big for the house.
“No, honey, it isn’t like Clifford the Big Red Dog,” I told him, smiling to myself. “Eventually you stop growing. You’ll probably be about daddy’s size.”
You know, as your kids get bigger, start learning more and more about the world–what things are called, how things work–and they become able to do more and more–walking, running, riding a bike, brushing their own teeth–it’s easy to forget just how much they still need to learn. This conversation with my little boy made me recognise that, while I am an adult who knows ‘the way the world works’, who knows about gravity and how we grow and where our food comes from and why we get sick and how we earn money to pay for things etc. etc., for children every day is a great Leap of Faith. A step out into a world which is still largely unknown. A world where it is possible to grow and grow and just keep on growing.
It’s really stuck with me, because I actually can’t imagine how much bravery and faith children have to have just to walk around in the world. How much trust my little boys place in me to protect and guide them through a world that doesn’t have the order and predictability that I experience. Just imagine stepping out of your front door and into a world where it could snow any minute (because you don’t know where snow comes from), where throwing a ball holds the element of surprise because…maybe…this time…it might fly Up. Imagine living in a world where a monster really could be under your bed, where you got into a car and magically appeared at your destination like a time-travelling machine, where you couldn’t understand the strange black symbols on pages and signs that other people seemed to understand. This takes a real Leap of Faith. This is stepping out into the Unknown.
But along with that Unknown, comes Openness. A place not yet dominated by Expectations about how things should be. A creativity that comes from a mind not restricted by the ‘rules’ of life. This is the source of the World of Pretend. The way my little boy is able to become pregnant and then give birth not to a human child but to Dragons, fully formed and ready to fly.
And it makes me wonder, is losing this Openness the price we pay for the security of Knowing? Does the kind of Openness a child has towards the world come at the cost of Uncertainty?
What do you think???