“From the mouths’ of babes,” is the old standby saying usually muttered just after a small child has pointed a finger and uttered a stark truth, just as the child did in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
These statements can leave adults cringing in their wake. Yet in reality, the little ones have done nothing more than to blurt out what seems obvious to them. You want an example? One morning my father took my two-year-old son to the local coffee shop – you know the type -- where all the men hang out to catch up on the news. Children that age either have to go frequently or just enjoy exploring restrooms and before long they were waiting for the current occupant to vacate the men’s room.
When my son had finished his business and importantly washed his hands, he led my father right up to the biggest table, caught the eye of the man who had preceded him in the john and loudly said, “Next time, flush it.” As the men hooted, my father blushed and my son turned on his little heel and returned to his breakfast.
That event, like most that involve small children, shows how kids strip off the fluff and express the world the way they see it, even when that is more clearly than their parents and grandparents might prefer. Their world is pretty simple.
There was the small grandchild who begged for another trip to Mexico. His mother, after a good deal of conversation, discovered that he wasn’t yearning for any of the events his grandparents had planned. It wasn’t even his grandparents that he missed. He wanted to come back and see the “broccoli hills.” His has to be the best of all descriptions of the mountains surrounding lakeside in the summer rainy season. I never look up to the mountains without remembering that little person’s perspective. The mountains do look just like mounds of broccoli in the produce department.
Lakeside children have an interesting perspective on the world that is very different from that of children north of the border. When the teacher in our northern classrooms told us to take a piece of paper and draw a picture of our home or our town, we immediately laid out the paper horizontally on our desks, and drew a straight line from left to right, exactly in the middle. Above the line we dropped a small pale sun and a puffy cloud or two into the big blue sky. Below the line there was plenty of space for roads, rivers, hills, trees, pets and families. Of course there were variations on that theme. The “country kids” drew fields and tractors. Some of the boys steeped in WWII lore threw in a battlefield with airplanes – bombers – sending their cargo onto the land below. Others, mostly girls, probably drew rectangular houses with curtains pulled back in the windows, apple trees with swings, rows of flowers along the foundation and a winding sidewalk out toward the street.
It never occurred to us that we might express our world vertically. In fact, I’m sure that such a strange perspective would have perplexed and disconcerted, our do-it-the-right-way teachers.
When local children are drawing a home-themed picture, they instinctively give the paper a quarter turn into the vertical position. Clear up at the tippy top of the page, they draw a jagged line to represent the peaks of the mountains that form the backdrop of their world. Peeking from behind a mountain or two is an enormous, deliriously happy sun. Clear down at the bottom of the sheet of paper, is the calm blue water of Lake Chapala filled with dozens of carefully drawn fish and a row boat of fishermen and nets. Between the mountains and the lake, just as in the perspective of their real life are the tall narrow houses, a church with a cross on top, a few trees and maybe a horse or burro or two.
Admittedly it’s a strange and new perspective – to us. Yet, the drawings of both sets of children represent what they know. One isn’t right, the other isn’t wrong. They just are.
It seems that perhaps these drawings, filled with what kids know, are good examples of many of the cultural differences we notice. The way of those born here isn’t necessarily totally right; the way of those who chose to live here isn’t always completely wrong. They both just are, and are as similar as a quick turn of a sheet of paper in order to have room for tall, broccoli-green mountains and the giant sun, or the wide, wide expanse of the land and sky.
Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. Maybe we need to spend less time complaining and more time talking to the small set. It seems as if children everywhere have truths to share and that they are telling us is that we are more alike than we are different, if we’ll just stop and take time to understand their perspective.