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September 9, 2014
Faith and Science
What is a Child?
by Ami Chopine

At the store just this last week, I heard a young child crying and happened to see her down the aisle with a man whom I assumed to be her father. The man was bouncing her up and down and trying to comfort her.

“Oh yes, I know. It’s sooo hard to be one and a half. “

She probably couldn’t understand the sarcasm, so hopefully the words felt like support to her. Because she did understand the words and it is hard to be one and a half.

They are helpless. They can barely talk. So they cry a lot. Heck, they can’t even remember most things. They’re incapable of logical thinking.

Put yourself in the place of a newborn. You must be carried around by someone else. You aren’t paralyzed, but you don’t know how to make your hands grab things when you want them to. You don’t even know how to control your lips and tongue, let alone form words.

For that matter, you can’t even understand the language. There is lots of unfamiliar information to process. For some reason, the high-pitched sounds are more coherent than the low-pitched ones, so those are the ones you pay more attention to.

You have a fun time or some epiphany about how to walk and know by now that you won’t remember it the next day. (I have a specific memory of trying to inventory all I knew, while I was playing with blocks, and promising myself that this time, I wouldn't forget it. Years later, I told my mom and described the place. It happened to be the apartment we lived in when I was barely two.)

If things happen over and over again you'll remember them and may start to predict what might happen based on what just happened. This allows you to control your own body.

You do know facial expressions. You know when someone is paying attention to you, and smiling and modeling facial expressions so you can practice. You know when they’re ignoring you, or are angry at you (and you don’t know why, so it must just be you), or their arms aren’t cuddly but stiff as they hold you.

You feel hunger, loneliness, fear, and frustration. You don’t know how to communicate those, but your feelings also don’t hide themselves. You just cry. You don’t try to. You can barely control your body. It cries when it feels those things.

But, you also feel satisfaction, love, security, and triumph over success. Finally, finally! You grabbed the toy that hangs frustratingly in front of you every time your mother or father puts you in that snuggly chair and you don’t see them for long, long periods of time.

The lifetime of a child stretches back behind him in his mind, as long as yours stretches behind you. So time is slow. You’d be amazed at how patient children are, within their frame of reference.

The feelings infants and children have are intense — perhaps more intense than adult feelings, since there is no buffer of experience and they have no control over them.

One thing that’s interesting about newborns is that the parts of the brain that process sensory information are not yet fully developed. There are too many connections and information doesn’t always get to the right place in the brain. A newborn may smell a color, or see a noise.

They experience the world so very differently from us it is almost alien. But it is not a lesser experience than our adult understanding.

And it is certainly not less important than adult experience.

If anything, the moments of early childhood are more important than those of adulthood.

The work of the child is to learn all he needs to know to become a contributing adult in our society of eternal beings in transition.

So. That's the thought that crossed my mind — not quite as wordy — when I heard the parent comforting his toddler. Maybe, hopefully, he wasn’t being sarcastic, but understood just how hard it really is to be young.

One of the root causes of many of society’s ills is that we do not value our children enough. It is a cultural trait that runs so deep we do not grasp how warped our attitudes towards children and family life are.

I believe a major factor was the celibacy that occurred in monasteries during medieval times and was inherited by the educational institutions run by clergy. Learning and scholarship were sterile endeavors, outside the realm of family life and certainly not to be disturbed by children.

These childless and wifeless men were the philosophers who shaped western thought. Oh, what a wicked turn that was.

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. (Matthew 18:2-5)

I think it means more to humble ourselves as a little child than being teachable — though that is essential. I think it means that among other false dominions we should abandon, we must view children as equals who only require guidance in this new place they’ve come into.

It’s hard to be one and a half, or five or ten or fifteen, twenty-five or forty, sixty, ninety. Age, by itself, does not change how hard our lives are.

We should stop thinking we’re more important by virtue of our age or experience or knowledge. We are not more important than anybody. And there is no one we should lift ourselves above.

This isn’t easy for our natural brains. Being the alpha, secure in power is our inclination.

But I know that with the help of the Savior — the servant of us all — we can begin to humble ourselves and strive to serve rather than rule over our children.

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