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Slow down on the road to adulthood

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

It might seem a bit pompous to analyze the classic children's tale “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie, but in taking that risk let me just say that I think there is more in the classic than just a good story. There is something about wanting to stay as a child that warrants our further consideration.

Conventional wisdom (which is to limit its veracity) has it that our children are growing up too fast these days, physically perhaps but definitely in learning worldly ways at younger ages.

I think that does seem to be the case, and I find it most unfortunate. Peter Pan had something when he said that he did not want to grow up, and indeed was apparently never going to do so even at the risk of losing some friends who did grow older.

It is not just the children themselves who lose in rapidly growing up, but also we adults and society as a whole.

My reasoning here is that we can learn -- as we grow older -- from those younger than us, our children and grandchildren. If you think it is just we that need to teach our children, you have missed the obvious: that we can learn as much from our children as they might learn from us.

My thoughts are meandering this way this week, because it is the week between my first-born granddaughter turning 12 and my next-born granddaughter during 12 (there is 12 days between their birthdays).

I am thinking a lot about them as they approach the teenage years.

When we are together, I catch glimpses of them drifting off into the world of hand-held social media or deep into their thoughts as they take in the world.

And, like Peter Pan, I want to shout to them: “Don't grow up.”

Of course, that is not possible, nor is it wise to compete against the culture?

Yet I strive to still learn from them -- and from anyone younger than me in that ever-enlarging field of teachers -- because I am not so arrogant as to think I learned it all already. And I am certain that if they could articulate it children would be able to tell us things we never knew (except as children) about life.

At the Leader Times for the last quarter of a century, I have had the good fortune to have worked with a lot of young adults, In fact, I remember the realization at one time that I was at last working with a young woman who was the same age as one of my daughters and I thought of it as a life landmark of sorts.

On TV recently I saw a some young children in an impoverished neighborhood of a city in India rolling a tire down the road and obviously enjoying themselves.

I thought to myself: Where does that spirit come from?

I am not denying the pain of poverty in the least, but what I saw in the laughter and smiles of those children was the undeniable spirit of childhood. How to retain that spirit after the age of 12 or so is the lesson we adults need to learn.

The best teaching, it seems to me, is done by example, and not necessarily with words.

Like getting back love when you give it, children invest themselves in the observing of life and get back a soaring spirit from what they see.

Children are -- at least for a large portion of their childhoods -- not judgmental. They observe in ways so uncluttered by the layers of interpretation that we adults automatically employ. That is a valuable trait that I know many adults have lost and have not restored by watching and learning from children.

I am concerned, as I watch Elizabeth texting (not a bad thing in itself) that I once watched her completely enthralled with the movement of worms on our side walkway on a hot summer day, or as I catch her cousin Madalyn staring blankly into space with a concerned look on her face, that they are picking up those adult traits of anxiety or of disinterest in the simple things, or of worry over what others in the world might say about them.

I wish I could tack childhood to their skin like Peter tried to stick his shadow to his feet with soap.

In watching children I want to renew my own childhood enthusiasm for life's simple things that I remember having as a kid. In part it is why I so often write about those years.

So to the adults out there: Study the children rather than self help books. And to the children (as if they would listen): Slow down your race to adulthood, it is not always what you think.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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