A friend gave me a call recently, asking me to come and sing Christmas Carols for some kids in Downtown LA at an afterschool event. It was before Christmas, naturally, and it was a low key event. Lots of kids, a handful of adults serving them food and hanging out with them. There were some crafts. Nothing was very programmed. Just hotdogs, a little playground, and me.
It was a lot of fun, naturally, even though I must have had to gently remind the five and six year-olds not to turn the tuning pegs on my guitar about a hundred times. I had never met any of the kids before, but one of the people in charge enthusiastically introduced me, then left. A small sea of tiny faces stared at me expectantly, gathered around so tightly that they were pressing against me. I started playing Christmas Carols, they laughed and started singing along and dancing, and it was great. They really, really liked Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We must have sung it no less than eight times.
Me: “We just sang it- are you sure you don’t want me to play something else?”
Me: *Shrugs. Starts playing the same song over again.*
After I had only been at the school for a few minutes, kids were already fighting for places on my lap, which was tricky since my lap also had a guitar in it. I had forgotten how much small children like to sit on people.
All of this is to say that I noticed a couple of things from this experience that made me think.
Kids have no pretensions about them. If they want to dance, then they’re dang well going to dance. If they like a song so much that they want to keep singing it, they’ll repeat it eight times. If they’ve just met you and they decide that they want to sit on your lap, you better believe they’re going to try. If they love you, they’ll tell you. By and large, kids have not yet gotten adept at pretending to be something they’re not, like we adults have.
The Absolute Opposite of Innocence
Kids, as I’ve just mentioned, aren’t very into the idea of editing themselves. Sometimes the result is precious: a little song and dance, a joke that makes less than no sense, but is still amazing, or an unexpected, right on the mark comment. Other times, this quality means that they’ll suddenly flip a switch and be mercilessly mean to their little friends, shouting accusations, smearing their character, growing sullen. It’s an odd dynamic. Kids often lie, steal, cheat, etc., and they need to be taught how to do what is right. Luckily God made them very small, because they can’t do a whole lot of damage to themselves or others when they get upset or start acting cruel.
All of this made me think that we take these two things I’ve mentioned and flip them around as adults. We edit ourselves all of the time. We have affectations, stigmas, images, and masks that are exquisitely and delicately carved. We often worry what others will think of us if we express our true feelings, do what we think is right, dance when we want to dance.
Cruelty still lives in our lives, but with our skills of pretense, we’re able to disguise our meanness. It is easy for us to justify our bad behavior, to cloak our accusations and our name-calling in a noble fabric.
It would be better if we were like the kids I sat and played guitar with. They have junk in their hearts too, but at least when it comes out it’s clear to them and everyone else that something wrong has taken place. People say that imagination is the realm of children, but I say that adults are much more creative. We have grown far too adept at pretending.