I don’t usually have much interaction with children. And even though I have the lifestyle of a four year-old there’s not much of an opportunity to encounter the little whipper-snappers, having never been a whipper or a snapper. So when my friend asked if I wanted to come with her to pick up her kids at school I thought it would be a welcome chance to step inside a Kindergarten for a desperate grasp at innocence. Even the word, “Kindergarten,” (Garden of Children) evokes naive delight before the weeds of adulthood strangle optimism. I had just passed a playground with a three-year old on a swing talking on a cell phone. I needed proof childhood still exists.
I approached the Public School as a shrine to lost virtue and as soon as my shoes hit the speckled terrazzo hallways I was hit by the sweet nasal déjà vu of magic markers and play-dough. It was hot toddy nostalgia for a simple time when apple juice with a nap was the only thing on my To-do List. At first I just leaned against the doorjamb. But there’s a thin line between leaning and lurking so I stepped into the classroom buzzing with children struggling with their coats, scarves and mittens in a blizzard of little arms and wool. My eyes sighed around the room at the kiddy cuteness of little tables with colorful art supplies and mini-chairs where once my feet could touch the floor.
Amidst the swarm of children and doting parents, I spotted a little fuzzy-haired boy who couldn’t have been more than five. He was concentrating on putting on his boots. Oh, how I wished I could be in his size five shoes playing in the vast Sahara of a sandbox in a time when Wolf Blitzer could only be a name in a fairy tale. How I envied this child, his young life so pure and simple where the biggest decision of the day is whether to color inside the lines. We have all been re-programmed not to talk to strangers so I was afraid to speak to the little cherub struggling with his second boot. But his dimpled cheeks and wide brown eyes swimming with wonder steeled my desperation to re-capture my own childhood. I took a few grown-up steps toward treasured innocence. I smiled and cheerily asked, “Hi. How was your day?” The little brown-eyed boy rose to his feet, looked up at me and said, “We’re all going to be dead tomorrow.”