- By Paul O’Brien
Children, at times, seem to have a bizarre and surreal perspective on life. A teenage relative told us how, when he was little, his mother announced the imminent arrival of a new member of the family. Remembering how she had thrown out the old vacuum cleaner when she bought a new one, he lived for a long time in trepidation about ending up beside it in the dump now that the “new” baby threatened to displace the “old” one.
Of course, I have been a child myself and I remember the difficulties of adjusting to the immensely subtle worldview that is taken for granted by adults. When I was small, my family often went for drives in the hilly countryside of Wicklow, south of Dublin – traditionally, and justly, named the garden of Ireland for its beauty.
On the way back from the drive, we always passed a long, low factory with the title of “Industrial Yarns Ltd.” Of course, I knew what a yarn was, so I vaguely imagined that inside the building venerable shop foremen spent their time regaling an audience with tales of the good old days of the factory system. My knowledge of economics being limited, I was somewhat vague as to how such a setup could be remunerative in monetary terms, but I didn’t think too deeply about it.
Indeed, my innocence of economic matters got me into hot water when, at the age of three, I decided it would be a good idea to wander down to the grocery store several blocks from home and fetch a bottle of lemonade from the rack at floor level. (Unfortunately, the cash side of the transaction was a sealed book to me, as my frantic but relieved father had to explain to the shopkeeper while separating me from the item in question.)
A friend who is a policeman, in the course of a difference of opinion on behavioral matters with his small son, was startled to hear the threat: “I’m going to tell my other daddy on you.” (The child, seeing his father sometimes in a police uniform and sometimes not, naturally thought he had two fathers and reasoned that the time had probably come to play off one against the other.)
A friend’s firstborn son – let us call him Jason – on being told of a happy coming event, asked his mother if “another Jason” was on the way. He was clearly unable to imagine that the world could be in any way improved upon – except in terms of replication – now that he had entered it.
If such juvenile concepts as disposable children, multiple selfhood, and the theory of capitalist production seem quaint to us, we should note how odd our own ideas must seem to children. And perhaps, there is a form of adult egotism that laughs a bit too much at this, that delights in teasing children and their literal-mindedness with concepts, subtleties, and nuances beyond their capacity to grasp.
When I was a child I swore that I wouldn’t do it when I grew up, and to my shame I still find myself sometimes falling into the trap.
A childish unsophistication can be a disadvantage – as I discovered with the bottle of lemonade – but the other side of the coin is surely an innocence that sometimes, at least, sees the world more clearly than we adults do.