• Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
sunshine & unicorns: a blog about love, learning, and life in the upper midwest

04 June 2010

our kids will be experienced

My childhood was really just a trial-period for adulthood. Growing up as the only child (in my extended family, not just for my parents), I was expected to hurry up and be a grown-up. I'm not saying I had a bad childhood - I didn't at all. I had tons of opportunities, attention and education. I guess what I'm saying is that a lot of concessions normally made for children were not made for me. There was no kids' table at the holidays. No music players, snacks or portable entertainment for car trips. No mac-and-cheese meals while everyone else ate something spicier. No baby-gates, outlet-protectors or child-friendly furnishings. No tapes of Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers to entertain me while the adults talked.

Excepting the normal acceptances one would have for any child, I was supposed to behave politely and respectfully when dealing with people and with things.

If it looked breakable, I knew not to touch it or run around near it. If it looked stain-able, I didn't eat over or near it. And if someone did give me the privilege of exploring something otherwise above my skill- or clumsiness level, I was DAMN careful and attentive to their instructions.

As an adult, I recognize that not all children are that way. But I also recognize that many children have the potential to understand notions like "breakable," "expensive," and "gentle".

Below is a photo I snapped while shooting the "Girls Getting Ready" at my friend's wedding last weekend.

We shot a wedding today [44/365]

This little beauty of a girl is almost 5 and will go to Kindergarten in the fall. She is the daughter of one of my friends, and was the flower girl in the wedding. She asked me if she could use my camera and I said she could. I think some of the other people there were pretty surprised that I allowed this. (I had overheard a few other people telling her 'no' when she asked to use their cameras at the previous night's rehearsal dinner.) But it was a judgement call.

I had observed that she was being good. She was calm and inquisitive, and she wasn't being hyper or rough. I also recognized that she was faced with 3 hours of watching a bunch of women (including her mother) get their hair done. And she didn't have any books or toys with her. (BOR-ING.) She is also a very smart little girl who seemed to understand and pay attention to the various things people were talking about with her. So when she asked if she could take some pictures, I said yes. But I didn't just hand her the camera.

First I changed the lens, attaching one of our least expensive lenses to the camera body. (I didn't expect her to drop the camera, but you never know.) Then, I put the strap around her neck. I explained to her that the strap must remain around her neck if she wanted to use the camera. I also made sure she knew that I always wear the strap too; that way, she wouldn't think she was only being forced to do so because of her age. (Never mind that this camera is heavy enough that it'd probably pull her down with it if she lost her grip!!) Finally, I had a little talk with her. I got down to her level, made eye-contact and explained that this was a very expensive and delicate camera, and that she needed to hold on to it firmly with both hands, and set it down gently if she was done using it. When she told me she understood, I simply showed her how to focus and which button to push. And she was off!

Of course, I followed her around and monitored her treatment of the camera. But she did great. She even shot some photos I will be keeping and presenting to the bride as part of her wedding package!

I know very little about kids. In fact, they pretty much scare the hell out of me. What I do know is limited to my own experience with being one. And what I remember most from being a child are the times when someone either did or didn't trust me. I remember being proud to have their trust, and determined not to let them down. Conversely, I remember the resentment I felt when -- immersed in a sea of adults -- I was treated like a know-nothing baby.

So when possible, I like to let my friends' children do things that might be a little beyond their age (provided that the activity is safe and monitored, and the child's parent is OK with it).

I hope to give the same experiences to my children. I don't mean I'm going to buy them dSLRs or make them cook dinner before they're old enough to see over the counter top or anything. But I hope I'll be willing to give them a chance. Kids may be inexperienced, but that's what makes opportunities like this so valuable for them.

Trust is a powerful thing too. Regardless of your age, you build a rapport by living, acting, and communicating with the people around you. Trust gains you more privileges, but it also gives you more to lose. I believe (again, from my own experience as a kid) that when kids know they have the trust of their parents, they are less likely to do things that'll cause them to lose that trust. Obviously there are gray areas. Nothing with kids can be black-and-white. And for some kids (I'm thinking teens here), gaining the trust of authority figures just makes it easier to get away with things while the adults are blinded by the trust.

But this post isn't about raising a good teenager, anyway. It's about respecting children. They're people, they're usually eager to learn, and they're often more capable than most of us think they are.

They're also going to be running this country when we're all eventually back to wearing diapers again.