These days it’s difficult to find true innocence in the world, but if you have ever watched a month-old puppy sleeping or gazed into the eyes of a toddler-aged child you can still see it. At that age, everything is new and exciting, not routine and boring such as for the rest of us who have become jaded over the years.
Little kids, especially barely able to speak, watch and listen to everything. All kinds of things fascinate them; the graceful motion of goldfish, the gentle waving of tall grasses, the color yellow, and the bouncing of a beach ball. All the things adults take for granted, toddlers find endlessly amazing. They believe everything we tell them; they have no concept of lying, or even fanciful jest. Myths, childhood legends, make-believe, wonderful fantasies of all sorts and even bogeymen that lurk in their closets at night are all real to them. Kids believe it just because we say it. Like the sleeping puppy, their total absence of guile seems to last such a short time! This innocence seems to vanish within the first few years of their lives, never to be reclaimed.
What takes the place of childish innocence? We can only hope that it is wisdom. As children learn the ways of the world, this knowledge can sometimes be disappointing. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus or Superman. The tiny puppy grew into a big dog that bites if its ears are yanked. Grandmother died – she isn’t “sleeping.” And there are monsters, but they don’t live in the closet at night; they are teachers and babysitters and the nice man next door who has some strange pictures of naked kids.
Sometimes a child’s wisdom is born from simplification. They seem to reduce everything down to the bare minimum and accept that for what it is. They know nothing of the politics behind a bombing nor do they understand the complex science behind the hurricane that took away a house. It is what it is and it happened ‘just because’. When Mommy and Daddy no longer live in the same house, do children understand that sometimes relationships simply run their course? Of course not. All they know is that Daddy went away to live somewhere else or that Mummy said they had to leave the home for a different one and that everything will be fine.
Strange, isn’t it? Even when they know the truth, little kids still have the wisdom to tell it like it is and cope with it, whatever “it” may be. They don’t have ulcers, drink too much alcohol, or brood about ways to take revenge on someone who hurt them. They trust that they’ll have food to eat and clothes to wear. They don’t worry about paying the mortgage; they just put their toys away before bed like Mommy said. As adults, it seems incredible that we too were once as innocent as our youngest children are now. Then life happened – so did divorce, addiction, unemployment, war and illness.
So many times, it is all too easy to sigh and say that this is how life has to be for our children too. But even when Pandora released evil upon the world, hope remained in the box. Maybe our children will inherit a better world; we can certainly do our best to hope for that. Not everyone surrenders the innocence of youth and some folks are lucky enough to maintain a small portion of it as they age. If our toddlers can do this without becoming bitter or jaded by the worries of the world, then they have gained true wisdom.