I’ve had this post brewing for awhile. Like, at least a year. But: grad school. Life. Time-related excuses blah blah blah. Today, however, when I was enjoying some one-on-one time with my delightful youngest child, apple of my eye, I was reminded all over again how his eye(s) are very, very low to the ground.
Short Stack, he is short. Pretty darn short. Like, often-mistaken-for-at-least-two-years-younger-than-he-actually-is short. And between his unique combination of shorter stature and fierce independence lies a very large problem: nothing is made for him. He goes to the men’s room and comes out a moment later: “Mama, I can’t reach the soap.” This is the most hygienic six-year-old boy you’ve ever met…he sings ABCs AND Happy Birthday while washing his hands (much to the chagrin of his kindergarten teachers). So I have to lead him into the ladies’ room to boost him to a soap dispenser and sometimes hold him up at the sink, too. This while getting stink-eye from ladies who feel he’s too old to be in their domain. Well, guess what, ladies? He tried to do it solo in his own-gendered restroom (don’t even get me started on that one.) But apparently building architects/engineers don’t account for this quandry.
He is confident and polite enough to ask at a food counter for a cup for water, but adults often don’t see him waiting patiently to inquire. Then he cannot get the water himself, because again: too high. Today on our date he really, REALLY wanted to do the Freestyle drink machine on his own. One time an adult tried to reach over him from their place behind him in line and get their drink first because it took him 3 seconds to choose what soda he wanted. Then, later, when he went back for water he had figured out that there were buttons below, within his reach, intended for use by the handicapped customers. Clever boy! But again, a man behind us in line shot eye-daggers at me and sighed impatiently while Seth navigated the controls.
You know what? I don’t care. I give not one flying fig about these impatient, intolerant adults (and just who ARE these people, anyway?) and their huffing and their eye-rolling and their toe-tapping. I wasn’t always this way…with the older two, I was not so much more aware of others’ feelings about my tortoise children, but I was more sensitive to annoying them. I tried to rush my children along, or help them even when they were old enough to learn the skills themselves, to avoid inconveniencing people. But I have aged and mellowed myself; I have done my fair share of learning about what my children are learning at each stage of their development. And make no mistake…my child is building skills here, people. Independence and autonomy, verbal negotiations, and social skills that put the ungracious tall people to shame. When he opens his mouth and speaks to them, they are immediately disarmed. How old are you? they inevitably ask, awestruck by his vocabulary or his math prowess. But he doesn’t always get the chance to talk to them before they make up their minds that he is bothersome, and why should it matter? We are still doing a rather poor job of letting the little ones explore and do what they can on their own.
It made me think of something an elder at church recently confessed: she was upset that when she was a child, convention put the highest value on the elders and now that she was an elder, everyone thought the little ones were the ones to whom we ought to defer. I chuckled, and expressed my condolences, and I see her point. But I really *don’t* think we defer to our young people. Why do we continue to teach schools according to grown-up administrator’s standards and not to the needs and developmental appropriateness of the child? Why do we talk over their heads, ignoring the fact that they likely understand far more than we realize and dismissing their ideas when they try to insert themselves into the conversation? Why does my six-year-old need help reaching the gosh darn soap in every.single.public.bathroom? We systematically put things out of their reach, all the while placing such a high cultural value on independence and extroversion.
I think I notice it more with Seth than I did with the older boys, who were always extraordinarily tall for their age. Or maybe they were inclined to let me help rush them through things, not wanting to annoy others with their slower speed. Or maybe they just skipped the hand washing more often than I realized…but this is still a tall man’s world. So I’ll keep boosting, and bending to make eye contact, and allowing my six-year-old to hold up your beverage dispensing because he stood in line and it’s his turn, damn it. And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, more folks will be inclined to bring it down a level, or slow it down a notch, and see that there really is so much richness to enjoy in seeing things from a child’s perspective.