School's back in session, which means that children's minds -- active to begin with -- are now overflowing with questions, observations and stories.
If they don't know, they'll ask. If they do know, they're going to tell you about it.
It's an education for parents as much as students.
The part I enjoy most (most of the time) is hearing how my daughters think -- the connections they make. With kids, if you don't draw the line for them, they'll do it themselves. That's not always good.
I was watching the movie "Castaway," which for some reason grabbed 6-year-old Katie's attention and held it. She was fascinated by the dynamics of the movie.
When Tom Hanks made the decision to escape the island that had become his home and strapped a volleyball tight to his raft, Katie hardly blinked. When he awoke to find the straps had loosened and "Wilson" had drifted away, Katie gasped and covered her face.
Considering the elements of the scene from a 6-year-old perspective, I didn't understand why she was so affected. So I asked her.
"That was his friend and he made him."
That she had made that connection and empathized so completely astonished me.
I was still in awe days later when I recalled the scene. Then it hit me. I was thinking of the scene as an adult trying to see the scene as a 6-year-old. The adult in me is what messed up my entire perspective (ain't it always so?).
Why wouldn't children empathize with the loss of an "imaginary" friend? Most of their friends are created. The Barbie doll dressed for a day on the beach, the stuffed dinosaur that's "the baby," even the blocks that are people -- a child's entire life entails breathing life into inanimate objects.
To me, Wilson was a product of the mental reaction to being alone. To Katie, Wilson just was. The circumstances that created him and made him so important didn't matter. What mattered were the emotions linked to his existence.
My 6-year-old knows a lot more about people than I do, and her reactions are unclouded by judgment.
It's a thing of beauty -- most of the time.
Other times, I wish she'd use a little more judgment.
Katie brought home a picture from school. The sheet had a staircase and a window. Katie drew the rest. When I asked her to tell me about what she drew, she didn't answer with her usual "I don't remember."
There was a lot of story behind that picture, and she told it well. She started with, "That's you, Mommy, and you're naked."
OK, that certainly captured my attention. I was torn between being impressed with her storytelling skill and running to the registration desk at the nearest Catholic school.
"That's me. I'm going upstairs to get naked."
OK, leaning toward a private education.
"We're going swimming."
Deep breath. Stop thinking of the organs you'd have to sell to pay tuition.
I asked her, "Katie, do we swim naked?"
She laughed, incredulous that I would even ask such a question.
"No! We wear swim suits."
Then she looked at her picture, looked at me, and back at her picture. The same incredulous look crossed her face.
"I forgot the swim suits," she said.
She was totally shocked.
Me? I felt a little better (outside of the naked picture thing). That was a 6-year-old I could understand -- no philosophizing, no searching for deeper meaning, just a simple "I forgot."
I could make it more complicated, but I'm not.
After I spend hours tying my brain in knots, I'll discover that the simple answer was the right one anyway -- no matter how active her little brain is.