Posted by: Bill Tracy | January 13, 2010

The Child’s Mind

There are 234 episodes of the Leave It to Beaver television show. It was originally broadcast from 1957 through 1963, and sure as Larry Mondello has a donut in his pocket, I’ve seen every one of them. I can’t remember ever watching one when I was a kid, but the never-ending reruns these days fascinate me. Unlike most family shows or “sitcoms,” this show tried to see the world through the mind of a child. I don’t think they ever fully succeeded, but they did come close.

Wally and Beaver in an early episode.

Wally and Beaver in an early episode. Image courtesy

The way children see the world is largely incomprehensible to us adults. It’s like me trying to pick up the gist of a conversation between two people speaking Mandarin Chinese. I’ll get some body language, a facial expression here, a gesture there, but it’s stubbornly incomprehensible beyond that. Once in a while I get a glimpse into the reality of the child’s mind, and it astonishes me. Their incomplete knowledge of the world, their improbable anxieties, their limitless imagination and the rawness of emotion can all combine to make for a really strange view – and sometimes even stranger behavior! Adults will not understand this behavior that makes complete sense to the child.

I have three stories now that reveal the child’s mind, and I love them. I can never resist telling them.

The first story is new. It was a response to my “Leave Things Be” post where I talked about an experience with a rock. This person wrote:

A Stone From Hell

“It reminded me of something that happened to me when I was little involving a stone. There was a rock in my backyard, triangular shaped, kind of standing up. I’m sure I was only around 6 or 7 when I saw it. It was kind of standing up weird, and for whatever reason I thought maybe it wasn’t just a tiny, handful of a stone. Maybe it was a HUGE rock that went all the way down to hell! This thought actually scared me quite a bit.

“I knew if I were to kick it I would find out for sure. I imagined kicking it and having my foot bounce off because it was not just a small rock. I stared at it for a moment, then walked quickly towards it, and kicked it. Of course it went flying. But I didn’t stand there in relief, oh no! I turned around as quick as I could and walked off, all the while playing it cool, like I had just gone over there to kick a rock, not determine if it belonged to Satan or not. I don’t know if I ever told anyone that story before, but I sure should.”

That is one of the most delightful child adventure stories I’ve ever read. When was the last time you had that kind of dramatic experience in your own backyard?

The next story is one of my own. It can only be called silly from an adult perspective, but it was so real to me.

The Monocle

I was in fifth grade, probably 12 years old, when my academic performance began deteriorating. A little research revealed I could not see the blackboard from where I sat in class, so an eye exam was called for. All I remember of this ordeal was the doctor saying that my right eye was basically okay, but my left eye was weak. In the 1950s you did not have one-hour eyeglass frames. It usually took a couple of weeks. So they told me I would be fixed in two weeks. In spite of other children wearing glasses, my mind was fixated on the uniqueness of my problem – just one bad eye.

Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes

Monocle-wearing Colonel Klink in the Hogan's Heroe's TV show. Image courtesy

Now, I had seen old movies by this time. I knew people with one bad eye wore monocles. So I presumed that was my future. Normal kids, I’m guessing would have asked about this. Since I kept it to myself, I suppose that made me abnormal. But I lived two weeks in abject anxiety. How was I going to live as the only kid in the entire school who had to wear a monocle? Night after night I lost sleep over this. I imagined gales of laughter on the schoolyard, the pointing, whispering, one-eyed squints, maybe even a horrible nickname, “Three Eyes”! The day I was finally taken to get my glasses felt like an eleventh-hour call from the governor. They gave me ordinary eye glasses. I could be normal again!

Finally, this is a story that came out of a parenting class I did with prison inmates.

Fire In the Heart

A male inmate had his family come for an infrequent visit. His son, probably five or six years old came along. The child could not comprehend why Dad was living there, and not at home  with him. They gave him the standard line, that Dad had to do an “adult time out.” Dad had done something an adult is not supposed to do, something seriously wrong, and he was therefore not allowed to leave. Well, the child said he wanted to stay there with his Dad, but that was quickly dismissed as only adults can quickly dismiss such childish ideas.

The family went home after the visit, but the son was not going to give up. A few days later he set the family home ablaze. He didn’t hide the fact that he had done it, and when they asked him why, he said he did something seriously wrong so they would send him where his Dad was so he could be with him.

I think about stories like that, and it makes me wonder about that Christian Bible verse: “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Mark 10: 14-15.

Does that mean even Eddie Haskell is going to heaven?

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