Yesterday morning, 4-year old Lakshi woke early. The sun was streaming into the room she shares with her parents and older brother and a photo I had taken of them three years earlier – framed and mounted on the wall of their bedroom – was illuminated in its rays.
The parents look pleased, proud and a little shy. Vijay looks impish and ready for action. Only Lakshi – a babe in arms – looks solemn and pensive.
Yesterday, something about the photo moved Lakshi deeply. Waking before everyone else, she stared at the picture on the wall, gleaming in the sun. She began to sob quietly. Her parents continued to sleep.
Vijay, age 7, woke up. Lakshi fell into his arms crying loudly now. Vikram and Sarita woke then too to find Vijay trying desperately to comfort his little sister.
“What’s happened?” he kept asking.
“I’m remembering my childhood,” she kept replying.
She calmed down slowly as her parents hugged her but over the next hour, as she had her breakfast and got ready for school, little glimpses of her profound and thoughtful inner life emerged. “Mummy used to hold me in her arms,” she said. “I was so small.” There was a note of wonder in her voice. Still later, dreamily: “Mummy used to feed me.”
“I still hold her,” Sarita said, telling me the story. “She’s still small. And who else feeds her?”
What do children think about? What do they puzzle over? How do they make sense of the world around them, how do the events, half-understood conversations and large moving objects they observe translate into the perimeters and markers of their lives?
We underestimate children. We do not expect four year olds to mourn their lost childhoods. We do not expect them, small as they are, to marvel at their own past smallness or to long for the comfort of being tucked into Mummy’s arms, safe, secure, well-fed. We underestimate them. They constantly surprise us.
So welcome the surprise. Expect it, even. Wait for it, encourage it, revel in it when it arrives. Listen. Learn. Children provide the missing link between our past and our present, our present and our future and most important – our present and our present.
Small as they are, perhaps because of how small they are, they have lessons to share with us. Listen.