We live in an era that tries to make kids grow up too quickly – that tries to make them give up their innocence and childhood enjoyments far too early.
And I teach the age where the tension between childhood and growing up is just beginning. And I can see them – torn between wanting to love their “kid side” of nine and ten, yet being all too aware of the teenager pull just on the other side of twelve.
I see them trying on the attitudes, trying on the interests in older books, movies, and music. I see them developing their own opinions and wanting to be taken seriously for them. I see them thinking about middle school, crushes, and peer pressure. I see them making fun of each other for the silliest of things, splitting up into groups of who’s “cool” and who’s not.
And yet – I still see the glimpses of childhood all over them … the excitement about wearing a costume at school. The love of getting to have a stuffed animal at their desk (yes, I have about a dozen or more that line my bookshelves). The innocence in enjoying books and stories that are made for fifth-grade.
Today, I saw it more than ever. Every year after our Revolutionary War unit, I show them the “Felicity: An American Girl Adventure” movie. And every year, I fear that they’ll make fun of it (the boys are always skeptical when they hear the title), because it might seem too “little kiddish.”
But I’ve come to truly know fifth-graders. And I know that every year, they end up loving it after they see it – because it’s made with the perfect amount of drama, adventure, tough decisions, bravery, and loyal friendships without being too cheesey for them.
It’s the kind of movie they need to be watching at eleven years old – not R-rated, not horror, not inappropriate – just a solid story with characters who are kind of like them and who learn important lessons about life.
And from the comments from even some of my boys today, I knew they were buying into it – that they were caring about the story.
And it reminded me that even though they sometimes throw on that “tough kid” façade, deep down, they’re just eleven-year olds who need to be reminded that it’s okay to just be a kid.
I adored my childhood and all the things I loved to play, imagine, and create. I was also obsessed with American Girl, and I still love it because of the kinds of stories they tell about brave and courageous girls throughout history. Even though I look back now and think that maybe I shouldn’t have played with dolls for so long, or maybe I should have had more of a sense of fashion, I’m so grateful that I wasn’t forced to lose my innocence too early.
I loved what I got to do as a child, and I want every child to know that it’s okay – it’s okay to enjoy games and Legos and dolls and coloring and books for their age and movies that might seem simplistic to adults. It’s okay to use their imaginations and ride bikes and make up secret agencies and talk in code.
Because all too soon, they will have to grow up and take on more responsibility and more worries about life (and some of them already do).
But for today – I want to remind them to love being eleven years old – and all the carefree adventures that go with it. I might not be able to solve all their problems and change all their attitudes.
But I might be able to love them for who they are and give them a little bit of inspiration to be themselves, no matter what the rest of the world is doing.
And maybe that tiny reminder will stay with them as they grow up – so that they can continue to remind the next generation of the same thing.