With apologies to Robert All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Fulghum, not everything I learned at Minges Brook Elementary School was true.
Some was simply bad science and medicine: Girls (or boys, depending on your gender) give you “cooties.” Toads give you warts. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Babies come from cabbage patches. Kill a spider and it will rain. Step on a crack and break your mother’s back. Someday your face is going to freeze like that!
Some was bad sociology and psychology: Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me. This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. Big boys don’t cry. You’ll poke your eye out! Be nice and people will be nice to you. Play fair and you’ll win. You can be whatever you want to be. And they lived happily ever after.
So, somewhere between Play-Doh and Preparation H, we make the disturbing discovery that words do hurt. Big boys do cry. People who don’t play fair often clobber those who do. We may not “achieve” all our “mind can conceive.” Life is not one long day at Disney World.
Nursery school naivete infuses children with energetic innocence and enthusiasm. And a life of broken dreams and promises often produces cynical senior citizens. But, perhaps there’s a balance between Fulghum’s positive perspective and the negativity of nay- sayers.
We do need to “clean up our own messes,” but in reality we often need to clean up after others. “Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you,” but only if they are low in fat and cholesterol. “Take a nap every afternoon,” but only a very short one or you’ll be wide awake for those 3 a.m. TV infomercials. We do need to “flush,” but sometimes life’s plumbing gets clogged.
Perhaps maturity, then, is the ability to discern what is true and what is false. And to find that delicate balance between “and they lived happily ever after” and “the world’s going to hell in a hand basket.” You can’t learn that in kindergarten.
Copyright © 1988 James N. Watkins
What didn’t you learn in kindergarten? Please comment below.