Children are interesting creatures for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps the thing that intrigues me most about small humans, though, is something that can be chalked up to simple biology. Without them even being aware of what’s happening in the space between their ears, connections are forming, patterns are being learned, and billions of pieces of data are analyzed and filed away.
At the age of four, a child’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s. It has to be. There is so much that has to be learned at that age, from what it means when a stove’s burner is glowing red all the way to the intricacies of grammar.
When I was small, I had the blessing of a family determined to expand my horizons in any way possible. I soaked up information like a sponge. I attribute my constant thirst to answer “What if?” to my life at three years old, the age I learned the value of stories and story telling.
When I was maybe three or four years old, my mother was a college student. One of her favorite photographs is of a small, blonde-haired girl passed out on top of an anatomy textbook. That was our normal when I was young. Lots of studying and books too big for me.
My grandparents stepped up in a big way back then. Two days in particular stand out in my (admittedly limited) memories of those days: a peaceful morning with my grandmother, and a small uprising with my grandfather.
Even at three years old, I was a night owl. I was so thoroughly night creature, my lark of a grandmother and I clashed horribly on one particular morning when she woke me before the sun was awake. I had a doctor’s appointment that morning, she said. I didn’t care.
I curled up into a tight little ball in her bed and refused to move. Doctors could go away. They always had cold hands and needles. What did they need me for, anyway? Maybe Grandma could go without me.
No such luck. She turned the tv on to some cartoons and left the room. Still immitating a cat in my tight little ball, I watched the mindless pictures move until I fell back asleep.
The smell of pancakes woke me up shortly thereafter. Grandma had breakfast and, to my delight, a book. Within seconds, I was sitting upright. Books were a treat and a half! The whole time we ate, Grandma and I worked through the little paperback. Once in a while, she’d point to a word and ask me if I could sound it out. I tried, and, with her help, I succeeded most of the time.
Story time always made mornings better.
Grandpa surprised some people with the way he treated me. The quiet Coast Guard Officer would go from watching a funny tv show in the living room with a glass of rum to curled up on the couch with “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” within minutes.
He did all the voices, too.
Once in a while, though, he’d change his mind about reading me bedtime stories. Some nights, he just didn’t want to read to me at all. It was my turn. I’d argue, but I’d never win. On those nights, I usually gathered my dolls and acted out a short skit. It could be anything from the antics of my imaginary friends to imagining what would happen if pigs got waffles instead of pancakes.
Grandpa’s stubbornness made me exercise my imagination. Books and tv weren’t enough. I had to be creative.
They always say kids who are read to are the most likely to go far. My grandparents took that and ran with it, and for that I will always be thankful.