Children learn about people early and often
To become a self-sufficient adult kids must learn to ‘read’ the nature of people that intersect their lives. Ample opportunities to develop people skills start long before adolescence.
Kids learn about the nature of people, who they are, what one might expect of them, and how they are different from one another. Of course the jump-start for people learning begins with the relationship the very young have with their parents. The people tutorial comes in all sorts of situations as they child is toilet trained and turns babble into language. A true cliché is that kids are super learners and likely forget nothing, perhaps forever.
There are also magic moments when kids take extraordinary learning leaps. Those unusual situations are marked by being different from the ordinary events in their lives and therefore are associated with an activated brain, on a platform of emotions. Such a situation or event is marked by heightened attention and the consequent aftermath is a permanent and compelling memory made possible by the sudden spike in a brain cocktail that plays a key role in the consolidation of memories. Often those special events allow kids to learn some new and important information about the people in their world. We all have these special moments involving unforgettable people and associated events.
Here are 3 salient events from my childhood as a ten year old. No doubt you have comp able easily as compelling as my own.
I was 10 and an occasional candy thief. Turns out that while I thought I was a rare candy thief that was not the case since when I got older many other kids told me about their brief sporadic life as a criminal. I was in a drug store near my home that like most chains had everything from toothpaste, condom hidden in the prescription counter part of the store, to all sorts of excellent candy. Now and then I would wander around the drugstore looking around and as I past the candy display in on of the aisles I happen to reach out and touch one of my favorites and as I looked around my reach was also a grasp and seeing no one looking put the candy bar in my pocket. I was not alone or unobserved. An older woman (probably in her 40’s but for kids that was very old) came up to me and with a gentle voice and a slight hand on my shoulder let me know that she knew what I had just done. “You know young man, you know you shouldn’t steal. You know that is wrong. Why don’t we both walk up to the cashier and I will pay for your candy bar.” We walked together, slowly to the front of the store and while I felt terrified at the same time I felt both comfort and awe at what was happening. The woman paid for my candy and as she left me and the store behind patted me on the shoulder and said….”Remember”. Of course I remembered forever and also registered an early example of someone with extraordinary grace, sensitivity, generosity for total stranger.
Months later and a few block from the drug store I was witness to an ‘accident’. Well not exactly an accident. Suddenly people ran from where they were out into the busy intersection and huddled in the middle of the street. No cars moved, as scores of stunned people seemed to look down at the same spot where I could make out a woman lie lifeless surrounded by gawkers. To a 10 year old it seemed obvious. She had been hit by a car. I was more than just curious and so I joined the crowd that had gathered around the woman who seemed to be moving, trying to lift herself up off the asphalt. She seemed stunned, confused and then started to move, to look around and a chorus of voices asked if she were OK and what happened and did she need help. She replied to no one in particular that she was alright, that she had had a seizure and then she gasped…….”Where is my purse? Does anyone see my purse? My purse where is it?” Even to a 10 year old it was clear that she was frantic as she looked around her and on her knees started to look here and there as did the crowd of people around her. No purse could be seen. It was gone. While she was lying there someone had simply bent down, scooped up her purse and walked away. I had discovered another flavor of people.
What if my fellow stickball fanatic Lothar had been at the same scene? All of us kids knew that he had a screw loose, that he was unsavory, not to be trusted but despite that he was accepted at least as a playmate. I could imagine Lothar, on that same street corner, seeing what had happened. One of the adults in that scrum around the woman lying there might have asked Lothar, Hey kid, did you see who lifted that lady’s purse?” I can imagine Lothar responding after a little bit of head scratching and looking up at the sky, “Yeah, I think it was a woman who did it and she lives in the apartment building across the street, and I think her name rhymes with Krause”.
“Are you sure kid” and I can hear Lothar saying that he was not totally sure but pretty sure and that would have been made up nasty bullshit lying just to get back at a woman who would sometimes throw water down on us on Sunday mornings when we started playing stickball much to early, when folks were still sleeping.
Then in terms of nasty kids with something wrong with them, Stuart was a true winner, or better yet, loser. He was about 13 when he worked an errand boy in the corner drug store. He told me that one day when he was in a lousy mood he took a pick, maybe something like an ice pick, and jammed it through loads of packages of condoms. We were not so stupid or naïve not to know that Stuart was a shit.
Don’t know what happened to Lothar and Stuart after they grew up and we all moved away.
As a 10 year old I had already appreciated he power and joy of through my efforts making some money that I could then use for almost whatever I wanted. Wow to that. By then I had some experience shinning shoes, delivering fruits and vegetable to nearby apartments, helping to sell Christmas trees. All of the people I worked for were caring, matter of fact and often fun to work for, and felt appreciated as well as paid for my work. I decided to start a newspaper route. Each morning, well before school, I would load up newspapers into an old baby carriage and then unload the papers, one at time in front of the apartments of my ‘customers’. I felt empowered and proud of my route and business. I would buy the papers from the neighborhood candy store and, my customers would pay once a month. The business soon collapsed not because of wind and rain that might damage my ‘goods’ but because some adults never paid me for my papers. They would tell me to come back later, come back some other time, not answer the doorbell. I thought, adults, virtual neighbors, could be trusted. It didn’t occur to me that some people would have no problem stiffing a ten-year-old kid. Another unforgettable magic learning moment as part of growing sense of the nature of the universe.
No doubt your autobiographical stories could easily and effectively replace my own. Most of us are effective people learners starting early in out lives and we get better and better. If that does not happen we are in trouble.