Essays from
Giving Ground


May I propose that children aren't born with a sense of wonder? And if they are very lucky, they may acquire one by their middle 30's?

I think we are born bored. Born with, "Mom, when are we going?", and its corollary, "Dad, when are we going to get there?" on our lips.

It is parents and aunts and uncles and fairy godmothers who are so eager to show children all the things adults wonder at. We assign kids our own adult sense of the extraordinary, and then we are hopelessly frustrated when they don't act awed.

At the State Fair pet center when our daughter, Alex, was young, we watched through glass and on several television monitors, as a large dog was spayed by a veterinary surgeon. Veterinarians there spoke of the importance of neutering pets, and answered questions from the audience. Alex and I were right up close to the glass. We watched the surgeon scrub and don her sterile mask and gown and gloves. We watched the heart and respiration monitors. We watched the surgeon make the incision and tie off the dog's ovaries, and she described the whole process as she worked. And, "When are we going, Mom?"

On another summer day in Alex's childhood, we visited the MacDougal Lake archaeological site near here. We'd borrowed a child's library book about digging up history - lots of pictures, some explanation of how and why. I was bewitched by the site, so close to home. Alex was not. Volunteers and professionals were digging down through the layers of time with watercolor paint brushes. They showed us what they'd found; what they thought such ancient shapes had been used for; why they thought the campsite had been there even though the vegetation and water courses would have been very different in that early time. Alex's idea of a timeline, at that point, did not include aboriginal tribes; the only parts she'd filled in at that young age were dinosaurs, grandparents, our old cat, and she herself. "When are we going, Dad?"

Adults point out geese flying south, monarch butterflies just back from Mexico. Children dutifully look in the direction we're pointing. They've never had an occasion to fly 2,000 miles without a plane, so they aren't much thrilled. They have none of the "compare and contrast" skills yet.

Alex watched magicians, not to see the laws of gravity being defied, but to see if they'd fall down or set their clothes on fire with the tumbling torches.

It's not that I was angry, just frustrated. But I also remember falling asleep myself during theatrical extravaganzas in New York City when I was eight or ten. My parents would spend over a week's salary to get us kids into Carnegie Hall or the "Met." And I remember sleeping through lectures, as a college student, by professors I'd give my eye teeth to study with now.

I think the best we can do is to introduce our children to all this wonder, all these ideas and tides of seasons, and let them be. Let them be the kind of jaundiced audience that stand-up comics hate to play to. Awe is built up, a practiced skill, I think, not just delivered. And if they are truly lucky, someday a tumbling torch will set their minds on fire.

Copyright 2008 by Pam Thompson

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Giving Ground
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