Usually it's the boys who are interested in building things. But Friday a quartet of female architects, Hunter, Mollie, Maddison, and Katrina got to work on a pyramid built with one-inch wooden cubes. They kept at it until they were all the blocks were gone.
I wonder if my supply had been larger how much larger their construction would have grown.
“KARLI! Karli’s here, guys!”
“HI, ZIBBIT’S MOM!”
“Hey, hey, guess what, my goldfish died yesterday!”
“My zipper is stuck, Karli!”
“Can you tie my shoe?”
“My mom said we were going to go to a movie but instead we went to the grocery store because it was getting late!”
“Yesterday I watched ‘Max and Ruby’ ten times!”
“I have to go to the bathroom!”
Yesterday I spent part of the morning manning the reading table. The children would come five at a time and spend fifteen minutes with me, looking through books and practicing their reading and listening to me read to them. The reading table has a different theme each week, and this week the tub of books on the table were all about snow. They read about a snowman who had lost his nose, a turtle that refused to hibernate so he could play outside during winter, and two penguins named Flip and Flop. There were also a couple of scientific books about snowflakes, one of them particularly beautiful with its close-up photos of hundreds of different kinds of flakes. I was looking through this book with one of the boys in the class when I came across this passage:
“You exhale roughly a liter of water per day into the atmosphere, and most of this water rains or snows back down again within about a week’s time. The total global precipitation is about 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion) times greater than the amount of water you exhale, so your impact on the weather is pretty minor.
But even if you contribute only one quadrillionth of the total water content in a snowflake, that is still about 1,000 molecules. It depends on how well things are mixed in the atmosphere, but there are probably, very roughly, about a thousand of your molecules in every snowflake.”Naturally, I was momentarily stunned into silence. I shushed the children and read the passage aloud to them.
“You guys,” I said. “This is beautiful.” They stared at me blankly, thoroughly unimpressed. When you are five, you haven’t let learned to feel insignificant in the world because when you are five, the world is still yours.
It isn’t until much later (sometime around 7th or 8th grade) that you discover how terribly, terribly small you are. In middle school, when you learn about solar systems and careers and social hierarchies, you realize that no matter what you do or do not do, the world will continue to turn. You resign yourself to the fact that you are a grain of sand amidst billions of other grains of sand, and you just kind of lose your mind temporarily. You write terrible poems about puberty and God and you cry a lot and you hate your friends and you do weird things with your hair hoping that someone will finally notice you.
Things stay awful for about a decade and then, sometime in your mid-twenties, you finally calm down. You begin to make peace with the world again, either through accepting your seeming insignificance or by creating a life for yourself where you matter.
But, at age five, you don’t know any of these things. You don’t understand why grown-ups tell you all the time how wonderful and beautiful and important you are, because you never thought to believe otherwise. Yesterday morning was so comical; there I was, having some sort of enormous spiritual breakthrough in front of a table full of children who were patiently listening to me teach them something they already knew. Of course there are a thousand molecules of me in every snowflake, they must have thought. Is this woman crazy? Doesn’t she know that I am everything, and everything is me?
I’m learning, my lovelies, I’m learning. Thank you for gently accepting my ignorance and teaching me what it’s like to be so plugged in to it all. Sometimes, dears, the taller you get, the smaller you feel. And if this happens to you as you grow, if you start to wonder one day whether or not you matter, go hang out with some five-year-olds. Let them love you, and tell them about the snow.