February 6th, 2014
The smallest and most ordinary of things become larger and most urgent.
Look! My boots are purple. Look! Look! My pants are pink. Isn’t that fascinating?
The way she sees things from the very beginning will color her vision to the very end.
What kind of city would you like to see?
As published in The Daily News, February 7, 2014, and in The Memphis News, February 8-14, 2014
URPED MY OATS.
“I urped my oats,” the two-year-old announced from the backseat. “Urped her oats? Did she throw up back there?” her grandfather questioned. “Yes, baby,” her grandmother said to her, “you do have purple boots.”
Last week, her grandparents took two-year-old Campbell to see her first movie on a big screen.
“My plank sink,” came the next announcement. “My plank sink,” her grandfather repeated. “Wait, maybe that was stink – we better check that diaper.” “Yes, sweetheart,” her grandmother said to her, “your pants are pink.”
She was very excited and chattered all the way there.
“Be moisee, be moisee,” Campbell exclaimed. “Moisee,” Grandan wondered, “Maybe that’s mouse?” “Beats me,” said Doee, this time also stumped, “Maybe she’s been listening to French tapes.” “Be MOISEE!” Campbell repeated loud and clear, because, inside her head it was perfectly clear to her. “It’s big movie, you idiots, big movie!”
And when the movie started we were all speaking her language. Mesmerized by the allover size of it, the everywhere sound of it. The blanket of the big dark space covering so many. The big-as-a-house images on the big bright screen reflected in so many little bright eyes. The comfort of a lap to sit in, a neck to hug when it gets scary, a laugh to share when its funny, a gasp to gasp and a song to sing all together now. And all with popcorn.
We’re talking fascination, the language of first-time, wide-eyed wonder that comes so naturally to her and is so tragically lost to so many of us. Once as fluent in fascination as she, we now struggle to find as much of it in a day, even a week, as she finds in every hour, even every minute.
When we argue about whether or not we should feed a hungry child today at school, or a hungry mind in Pre-K, or a hungry heart in a lonely childhood, fascination dies early and we starve our own tomorrow. When we fail to see the difference early childhood makes in the kind of adults we become, our lack of vision has failed a generation if not several.
Campbell will always be loved and supported, but, at two, she doesn’t know that. She’s just fascinated, and the delight of that shines in her eyes. Even at two, there are far too many in a city as giving as this who are already aware of a lesser, darker reality, the light in their eyes already dimming.
“Seize biscuit,” she laughed on the way home, pointing out the window and rocking her car seat. “Seize biscuit! Seize biscuit.” Nora and I were clueless what that meant, but we were laughing, too.
You can see yourself – what you once were, what you hoped for – in the eyes of a child. It’s up to all of us to make sure what we see there, in all those eyes, is fascination not desolation.
I’m a Memphian, and I have to run. I have to go seize the biscuit.