Remember the tooth fairy?
That little secret was spoiled by my loving older brother. It was so heartbreaking, and I had to pretend that yes, I already knew that the tooth fairy wasn’t real, while inside, my heart was falling apart.
There are many moments in your childhood when your view of the world is shattered. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the ridiculous things kids believe that need to be explained to them so they could stop being ridiculous.
I am glad I wasn’t raised to believe in Santa because I bet that news would’ve devastated me. I can picture it now: my (loving) older brother mocking me as I looked up at our roof in hope. I don’t know what parents told their kids who didn’t have a fireplace, but I guess they say something else that hopefully doesn’t sound creepy (“He climbs in through Mommy and Daddy’s window! We Love it!”) and I’d be watching the sky and then Aaron would laugh and be like, “Santa isn’t real Alana. You get no presents this year.” And I’d have to put on a brave face and be like, “I knew that!” while still peeking at the sky with the corner of my eye. So yeah, I’m glad I didn’t have to live through that. Actually, knowing Santa wasn’t real was kind of nice, having this little secret that I had to preserve from the other kids. Kids love secrets.
Anyway, the whole beauty of childhood is (supposedly) learning new things! Which, unfortunately, involves a lot of getting things wrong and saying stupid things. Here are some examples.
1st grade was all about lining up. It was super cool to be the first in line, for obvious reasons. And the closer you were to the front of the line, the cooler you were. This always led to kids sneakily moving up in line, and when they were eventually caught, they were called out. “Mora Lori, Jonathan fudged me!” We would say. I think fudge is pretty close to budge so we should get some credit. I mean, we were six. But no. Mora Lori was fed up with us after hearing about fudge so many times a day. Maybe she was hungry for fudge. But she snapped. “It’s not fudging in line,” I remember her saying, her eyes wild. “It’s budging.”
As a class, we stood in line, absorbing her words.
And then we just went right back to saying fudging. Because now we knew it annoyed a teacher.
Another time me and my peers annoyed a grown-up so much about incorrect language was, of course, at home.
My little sister and I had recently learned about giving “the finger” and how insulting it was. Not that I’m blaming him, but this also could have come from my (loving) older brother. My parents definitely would’ve never exposed us kids to any inappropriate language. I remember that not only could we say “cuss words,” we also couldn’t say inappropriate words like “suck.” So of course my older sister started saying that when something was sup-par, it “vacuumed.” My parents were very proper. They were not fans of things “vacuuming.”
So of course, one day after school, my little sister Rebecca and I were flipping each other off and taking turns crying. I was probably in 6th grade.
“Do you even know what that means?” my furious mother finally yelled.
“Yes,” I said obnoxiously, obviously having no idea what a finger had to do with a bad word.
“It means you want to have sex with each other.” My mom’s voice was sharp. She was not fucking around.
I remember pausing, absorbing that information. I remember being annoyed because my mom took all the fun out of being mean to my sister. Thanks a lot, mom.
She probably made us apologize to each other too, but I don’t remember that part.
Learning things as a kid is always learning the hard way. It’s easy to know very few things as a kid. Kids were literally born yesterday. Or like, seven years ago. That’s it. That’s not a lot of time. And the “truths” of the world all kind of vacuum, you know? There’s no magic fairies who collect teeth? There’s no fudge in 1st grade? What’s the point in learning all this stuff anyway?
I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that learning new things involved someone older getting upset. That’s when the real, shocking stuff comes out. Really, we all need to be more patient with each other. Even to adults. Adults know shockingly little as well.
For instance, I was teaching a 19-year-old student English for the first time. This kid was 1) blind 2) half-deaf 3) disabled and 4) had a rough childhood. Obviously when he was a kid in school, he didn’t want to study English. He didn’t even pass high school! So when he joined my class, I didn’t take for granted that he’d know things about the world. I questioned. I pushed. I even once mentioned that bears live in Colorado, and now he thinks that there are just grizzlies wandering around downtown Denver.
But I didn’t lose my temper. I never said, “How do you not know that word?” I just went along with him at his pace.
By the way, if you want to learn more about what it’s like for me to teach blind students, I wrote a post about it here.
Now, unfortunately for this student, a word came up in a text that this student had no context of. I think it was the name of a city somewhere, like Mogadishu. Oh, what is Mogadishu, you ask? It’s common knowledge isn’t it? (It’s the capital of Somalia. You’re welcome).
Anyway, because it was a test, I was not there to help my student figure out what Mogadishu was. I taught him that if it starts with a capital letter, it’s the name of a person or place. He knows that. He can’t see that it starts with a capital letter, because he is blind. But his reader didn’t explain that. His reader just read the word Mogadishu and kept going with the rest of the sentence.
Then my student asks what that word was, the one he can’t remember?
The reader didn’t have patience. She snapped. She assumed he was stupid. She didn’t give him a chance.
Luckily, he got that question right anyway.
But that incident after he complained proved to me that sometimes, people make mistakes. And a little patience goes a long way. Oh, and big brothers can sometimes be the worst. But they are still very loving.