Being with little children is like playing with sunshine. They are bright, they warm us and chase away our shadows. They are little vessels of enthusiasm, wonder and humor. Eager to discover the world, they seek our wisdom and make us feel Solomon-like. For grandparents, nothing else is so rewarding.
Lukie and Teggy, cousins, 6 and 8, are peering into Teggy’s aquarium, a different world of varied colors and shapes where life is swimming, crawling, wriggling or floating in the currents, like tethered clouds. The children are learning that life blossoms in many forms – beautiful, intricate, wonderful. A good lesson, I think.
They are looking for four shrimp, little creatures that help clean that watery world.
“There’s Alexander!” Teggy says, pressing a finger against the glass. In a child’s world, even shrimp have names. “But where are the others?”
Alas, as shrimp will do, the others have taken their leave after sadly short lives, thus necessitating another trip to the shrimp store to replenish our local population.
“This afternoon,” Teggy’s mom tells her, “after the dentist checks your teeth, we’ll get more shrimp.”
“Four,” Teggy says. “We’ll get four shrimp to help Alexander keep the tank clean. I’ll pick out two and Lukie can pick out two.”
During the drive to the dentist they are excited, creating names for the new shrimp, giggling over the sillier ones.
“I’m getting two girls,” Teggy says.
“Well, then I’m getting two boys,” Lukie answers and then, struck by a new thought, says, “Hey! Maybe they’ll get married and have a bunch of babies!”
In a child’s mind, if two events occur close together then the first must have brought about the second. Going to the dentist and getting shrimp is what Lukie understood and he was excited by what was a truly novel event in his life.
“Wow, Teggy,” he asks, wide-eyed and greatly impressed. “Does your dentist always give you shrimp? My dentist just gives me toothbrushes!”
In the world of a 6-year-old, shrimp named Alexander and dentists who hand out crustaceans are quite reasonable.
After the dentist they went on to the shrimp store. Transparent little creatures barely an inch long and matchstick thin with numerous legs in constant motion, they are difficult to see, and catching any particular one is even harder.
“That one, there,” Teggy tells the shrimp lady, pointing to a murky spot in a cloud of tiny near-invisible creatures. “No, not that one, that one.”
Eventually four chosen shrimp are scooped up and carefully placed in a plastic bag of water. Back home, the children are looking into the little world of water, hoping the new shrimp will like their new home. As I watch them I think that in a perfect world, all children would have their own versions of Teggy’s aquarium, their own special windows for wide-eyed wonders and their own peacefully pluralistic worlds.
But, sadly, it is not a perfect world. I see, for example, that even in our own country children who are seeking a glimpse of such wonders are being turned away from our southwestern borders by angry adults. That makes me sad. I fear that wonders have dimmed for too many adults and I worry: Who will protect the brightness in this world for our children?