Last night I made my way out the door at nearly 8 PM to find a place for dinner. After seeing how busy most restaurants were on a Friday evening at that time, I settled on an old standby: Golden Corral (don’t judge). I like the Golden Corral for a couple of reasons. First, if I don’t really know what I feel like eating, I can simply keep sampling stuff until it hits me. Second, most of the people I see there are around my age, so I sort of blend in at a table by myself. Last night, however, was different.
The first thing that caught my eye was a dad and his 2 year old (all ages are guestimates, by the way) boy at that machine where you operate a crane and try to capture a toy at the bottom of the cage. The little boy looked at me as I walked in, and he had the clearest brown eyes that seemed to twinkle when he smiled. I smiled at him and waved that grandpa wave all of us seem to inherit at a certain time in life. He smiled, waved back, then buried his face in his dad’s leg before looking at me sideways to see if I was still watching him. It made me laugh.
While I was standing in line to pay, I noticed a young couple already in the food line with a 3 year old little girl in a cute dress that blew out like an umbrella when she twirled around. She was standing behind the dad, and then suddenly she tucked her head in between his legs, stood back up straight again, and skipped around him always with one hand on his pants leg to be sure she didn’t fall over. She was in her own little world, and it looked to be a great place. I smiled.
After I got in line, was behind a young mom and her 2 year old son. The mom had two plates and was trying to get the little boy to tell her what he wanted, only he wasn’t really tall enough to see the food. So he stood there, leaned his back as far as he could, and looked at the ceiling in wonder. His mouth was open and he rocked back and forth trying to keep his balance as he found his equilibrium challenged in this new position. I had to chuckle.
I don’t know where all these small children came from in an old folks’ restaurant, but I it made me happy to see them. They were in a world we have long forgotten. A world of make believe. A world of newness. A world of wonder. A world that belonged only to them.
And as I sat there trying to decide if the steak or the ribs or the catfish was going to be “it” for the night, I was hit with a twinge of disappointment and regret.
These children were explorers. Every action they took, burying a face to see if they disappeared, finding out if they can dance in circles without falling over, and looking at their surroundings in a totally new perspective, was an element of learning for them. Their little brains were busily processing neurons and axons and other -ons. They were filled with wonder and delight and discovering something new.
And at some point, its different for everyone, but at some point they are going to lose that wonder and awe and movement and learning-because-its-fun. They are going to be asked to sit still. They are going to be asked to get permission before they do the next thing. They are going to be asked to keep reading even though something interesting is happening outside the window.
And soon they won’t be asked. They will be told.
And the wonder of learning will be lost.