We stumbled over the rocks to the dusty road to begin our evening walk. My 7 year old niece was recapping various events as we trudged up the hill. Occasionally I asked a question to try and steer the conversation. She was jumping from topic to topic like a frog on caffeine. I was hot and tired and I wanted her to land. I wanted a thought to sit between us for a while and float on the air as we hiked. In the heat and the dust, I wanted her not to be 7.
So how often do you swim in your pool I asked?
“Pretty much a lot” she said.
“Do you like it?”
“Yes, 'specially since we got the slide.”
“I didn’t know you had a slide”
“Yep, daddy got one for us a while ago.”
“That’s cool” I said, as she tumbled over me with her words.
“I didn't like it at first. I didn't want to go down it, but daddy told me I had too. I cried and said I didn't want to but daddy told me I had to try. So I climbed up and got down on my stomach and then he pushed my feet. I was scared."
She had a look of dismay as she thought back to the event, and her voice hit a crescendo as she said again, “I didn't want to go.”
I waited a moment to see if she had more.
“So how was it when you slid down and hit the water?”
I watched her go from glum to glee in 0.6 seconds.
“It was fun! I didn’t want to go! She sounded exasperated and excited. “But then I did again and again and again. It was fun!”
We kept walking. Excitement and pride lingered in the air.
“So what did you learn from that?”
She looked at me with wonder and perhaps just a little frustration.
“What did you learn from going down the slide even though you were scared?”
She put her head down and was surprisingly quiet as we walked.
Finally she looked up at me.
“I would say…… I learned...you shouldn't be afraid of being afraid.”
Her eyes held mine. She had stated a matter of fact and she knew it. Deep understanding lit her face and I realized she sounded as old and as wise as the desert we were trudging through.
I gulped to keep the tears from coming.
Her eye caught a jack rabbit and she ran down the trail.
Little bodies are deceiving. It’s easy to believe that they hold little brains. I don’t know why I was surprised at her insight. I paused to remember what I already knew about the world at seven years old; about the conclusions I had already drawn. And then I thought about my own children, who often exhibited more wisdom in their youth than I do now that I’m old. Pride and regret wrapped around me; pride for her perceptivity. Regret, that in my moment of impatience I had wished her youthfulness away. She, like all children would grow up too fast....
Her sing song voice pulled me out of my thoughts.
“Race me Uncle John. Race me!”Suddenly I heard the pounding of feet and the gulping of air and the music of laughter. I watched as they ran up the hill and disappeared into the chalky sunlight.
Little guru to little girl in 0.6 seconds.
I smiled. And, then I ran too.