I've gotten the usual questions in those interviews, some about teaching, some about problematic situations. But I've always wondered why I'm never asked what is it that I like about teaching 6-7 year-olds. Should an interview committee ever ask, I don't know that I'd use the following as the answer.
I miss being a child. My brain misses the environment where it can properly best function--the age of 6. My mind waxes nostalgic for the times when wonderment about the world took priority over possession of material things. Teaching six-year-olds is as close as I can get to re-experiencing that.
Today material needs will hog my time: getting the outside of the house painted, instructing the electrician on details, buying this and that to prevent the house from going into some entropic sinkhole.
As I head to those duties, below I share with you a piece I wrote trying to put my head into that of a child's, attempting to understand how he might see our disciplinary attitudes from his imaginary world. The conversations herein, I hear all the time--parents giving their child innocuous instructions that make me wonder what makes the child persist. Hope you enjoy it.
A Grain of Life
As the four-year-old spread two gnarled fingernails to drop bits of gravel, one after another--their release precisely aimed and timed such that each wouldn't hinder the coming to rest of the last grain he'd deposited--in fact, he reenacted what he considered his favorite-est act of creation: conceiving a planet, a single granule at a time. This Creator was content to labor as long as necessary forming his new world, even though it might take several thousand years. At the least.
"Now, what are you doing?"
"Nuttin," he said, using his hand to wipe sweat from his upper lip.
"You should try to appreciate this more, 'specially 'cause I had to ask for the day off."
He'd learned it rarely paid to attempt placating her with an intelligible or even partial explanation of the unfathomable; this wasn't the first time she'd interrupted his constructions. He'd begun other worlds, occasionally some boasting their own moon. All had entailed intricate manipulations in the microcosm, incredibly so. But nothing deterred his creating. After all, it was as deeply rooted in him as was, seemingly, her propensity to impede his work.
"You just put on the expensive Easter outfit Grandma gave you this morning, and you'll just get it dirty. How do you think that's gonna make her feel?"
The Creator couldn't respond because none of her concerns fit his realities. He'd played a minor role in donning the outfit; it had been selected for and put on him, as usual, accompanied by orders to stand there like a mannequin. Plus, clothes got dirty, something out of his control, inevitable, entropic. And, it was beyond even his powers to grasp how someone twenty times his age might feel about anything.
But her remark did remind him of this morning when the idea for a different type of world had occurred to him. It had come to him as he'd played with his cereal.
"Don't play with your cereal. Think of all the starving children who never play with their food."
The non sequitur hadn't disturbed him, as he'd grown inured to them. But his cereal-play had transported his mind to a place he'd never imagined. What about making a really different kind of world?--one where she might remember how the two of them had once melded to one another.
Into this great new world he would inject memories of the passion in her face upon seeing him that first time in the delivery room; of the exhilaration she'd imparted when drawing him to her warming breast; of the wonderment she'd exuded when he'd taken his first step--scenarios and sensations emblazoned onto his heart, even if she hardly remembered them now. All his previous world-building would pale in comparison! He'd become so excited over the possibilities that he used the side of the bowl to catapult milk-cereal heavenward. Somehow, she hadn't shared in his enthusiasm.
Yet, why not make such a world? For her. Him returning her favors. Might she then, again--
"Pay attention! It's almost time." Onlookers like her and passers-by craned their necks or raised infants, anticipating the show about to start.
Meanwhile, his special world's mantle approached a crucial stage; it had completed its period of gestation. Mountain range and deep-canyon formation were the next, natural steps. Inspired, the Creator opted for a new substance--the white crumbs of something someone had serendipitously dropped on the sidewalk, within his reach.
"I've told you time and time again--"
The Creator knew better than to heed anything following the opening phrase he'd heard time and time again. At an early age he'd recognized the statement usually preceded the quashing of his world-building and thus interfered with his responsibilities, threatening the universe's continuation. So, for the sake of all that was glorious, he'd trained his brain to tune out such errata.
"Okay, it's time to stop that. The parade's starting."
As she grabbed his hand, he instinctively responded with the one act that might salvage his endeavors, and dripped droplets of saliva, bequeathing the moisture critical to life's onset.
"That's disgusting! Who taught you that?"
He knew better than to react to her opinion or confusion. No one had taught him; he'd been born like this, and attempts to enlighten her never bore fruit. Nor might her sanity have remained intact knowing the origins of his knowledge.
Despite her dragging him, he dug in his heels, leaned away, peered back, watching for his fluid to take.
When its flow leveled out to a standstill, the world's firmament reconstituted, glistened from genesis, blossomed with organisms furiously replicating themselves, supplanting what had held only sterility and desiccation. And making him smile wide.
"Look, here comes the Easter Bunny's float. We've got to move, or we'll miss it."
Normally she was too quick and strong for him, at least physically. Yet, in a few split seconds he knew he could bless his brave new planet a niche in eternity by gifting it its very own, first festive season. He had to.
An onlooker much girthier than her sidestepped between them, breaking her handhold. The release threw him toward his work struggling to thrive on the concrete; he barely averted a devastating landing. He lay there on his elbows, focusing, hoping.
As she knelt to lift him with one hand while brushing his clothes off with the other, she glanced down, at first, offhandedly. But the clamoring marching band, the oohing aahing crowd, and background, city din faded. On her second glance her brow wrinkled much as it always did when arguing about money.
As if his world knew, its first flashes of greenery shone into her eyes, tiny spurts of eruption drew strength from its core and miniscule tectonic plates heaved against gravity. In its miniature way, it reached for her, promising . . . so much.
Her brow lost its furrows, her breath abated, she shook her head as if attempting to break an enchantment. Her face grew angelic, he thought. Soft again. Like the mother she had first been. Her flicking at his attire forgotten, she freed his wrist, clasped his hands in hers. For one forever moment, her wide eyes gleamed of discovery, then loss. Twice she cleared her throat before managing a whispered, "Please come."
Outwardly, the Creator held his smile as they strolled side by side deeper into the raucous crowd, not worrying whether she understood his mission. After all, his soul thrived from faith that he would always have another opportunity at life, and not merely in his own time.
But inside himself, he chuckled because he understood better now how to reach and teach her. Next time a simple planet wouldn't suffice.
He'd need to advance to the level of a galaxy.
Or, maybe higher.
This story originally appeared on the antiquechildren literary site, 12/07/09.
Win an autographed novel
Next Sat. I'll begin an interview with the most renowned Chicano writer who's almost unknown among Chicano readers. It will appear in two parts and include 2 giveaways of his novels, autographed in his unique artistic style. All you have to do to win is return here and answer one question.
Es todo, hoy