Tag Archives: children

All Grown Up

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My first thought when they entered the room was “Oh, thank goodness, they’re back.” Three students I’d taught the year before who brought a friend who’s the sister of a girl I taught last year. I like teaching familiar faces. For selfish reasons, mostly. I don’t have to learn their learning styles because I already have. And I love teaching familiar faces. They’re delightful girls, and I’ve carried them in my heart for over a year now.

My second thought was, “Heavens. They grew.”

One grew about three inches and has long hair and braces. Another who was short and chubby a year ago is almost as tall as I am and slender. They’re all taller—they’re in that stage where they don’t really know what to do with their feet and are going to start looking worriedly into mirrors more often. Not that they need to. They haven’t stopped being beautiful. But their beauty is definitely changing.

The boys. I didn’t teach these boys, but I’d stand in last year when I was needed. The chunkiest one with the squeakiest voice is now looking down at me and his voice has dropped with his gaze. The other two, on the other hand, look exactly the same. A little taller, maybe, but their voices are just the same and still look small and boyish. Boys’ tendency to bloom late is perhaps one of the cruelest twists of pubescent fate, but I know that they’ll turn into men eventually.

No matter how they look or how old they get, they’re all lovely to me. They are precious in His sight, and so they are precious in mine.

Back Home

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So we find ourselves back where we started. Back in the national pastor’s house, well rested and very, very well fed.

This is also the house where the keyboard is set to Croatian mode, so if I type a “z” I get a “y” and vice versa. So if zou see anz weird tzpos, that’s whz.

I had forgotten how lovely it is to sleep for a solid ten hours. I have a very long Monday ahead of me, so I’m trying to stock up on sleep, if such a thing is possible.

Teaching is over for another year at least. It was harder to leave this year. Number one, for every inch we stepped towardy the car to leave the school, our students pulled us back a foot or so. Number two, I love my students, and for all I know, last night was the last time I’ll ever see them. Of course, a few of my older female students informed me that they are going to hold auditions for a Croatian husband for me–if I married a Croatian, I’d have to stay, they said. I told them “good luck.”

You know, last year I considered this trip a one-time thing. I would go, I would do my teaching thing, I’d leave, and I’d never come back. But somehow, after two years in a row, these people have become my people in a sense. While I am positive that God does not want me here on a permanent basis, I would come back every summer if I could. This is a dark land. So many people have never heard the liberating truth of the Gospel. The children here that I love do not yet know the love of Christ. I want to keep coming back to tell them again and again.

I am not much of a person. I am no great teacher. I am no great evangelist. There are amny things I love to do, none of which are areas in which I am proficient. But there are few things I’d rather do than be used of God to tell others of Himself. I have discovered in 21 years of living that there are fewer things more exciting than that.

I am praying already towards whether or not I should return next year. So many doors flew wide open this year that I feel I’d be a fool not to use another summer walking through them. As my Croatian mother says often, “It’s in God’s hands.” At the very least, my goal this year will be to tell people about Croatia and the incredible needs there. Maybe I’ll bring people with me next year. I’d love to.

But for now, I’m back home for a short rest before hitting the road again. So much is up in the air, and so will I be in a few days. Up in the air and headed home.

 

River

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Here on the banks of a river not my own

I discover at last the meaning of summer

 

in the deep purple depths of the blackberry trees

where brown fingers drip with delectable dye

 

in the tangled hair of wildgrown girls

their shoulders pink from the sun’s affection

 

in the merman dive of boys born of water

kicking their fins in the cool of their element

 

in the croak and the caw of the webfooted neighbors

who consider the clamor a calm passerby

 

in the branding of asphalt on tender feet

fresh from the water like ice on the fire

 

in the freedom of water made pure of rapids

pulling gently from beneath—a homeward call

 

in the bluesilver glimmer that calls the carefree

to fathom its depths with their heads to their toes

 

in the arms of the river so far from my own

I dive and discover the meaning of summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Which Rizzy Falls in Love

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This happened today. Okay, it wasn’t my birthday, and my outfit was a little more casual than that of the woman pictured here. But I showed up to class today, and my name was written all over the board, accompanied by hearts and a huge “Good Morning,” and my students were all standing in a corner, looking sheepish and grinning.

They are all so cute.

Three days of teaching, and I’m beginning to feel like I know what I’m doing. I wish I had had this level of competence last year. This year I am uninhibited by the feelings of utter inadequacy that hindered me last year. Now I feel free to pay attention to what each student needs.

And they all have different needs. For some, they just need help with pronunciation. Others need help knowing what the words are. Others just need help forming sentences. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something. What’s delightful is watching them help each other.

This class isn’t intended to be serious. It’s not school. These kids came to learn how to speak English from native English speakers, and they’re taking time during their summer holiday to do so. Learning to speak a language should be fun. There should be no fear of making mistakes, because making mistakes is how they’re going to learn. And I think this group knows that now. I’m no expert when it comes to teaching—I’ve told people for years that I could never be a teacher on a permanent basis—but I can tell that these kids want to learn. Mistakes happen, but we laugh through it together. No one makes fun of anyone else for not knowing as much as he or she does. Instead, the stronger speakers help the not-so-strong, and the not-so-strong don’t get embarrassed (at least not much) when they say something incorrectly.

I am teaching some brilliant kids. They are brilliant, kind, caring, and hardworking kids. I love them to death. And I hope, more than I hope for anything else, that they will see how God loves them so much more than I ever could. How He loved them enough to die for them.

If I can’t teach them that, then I’ve taught them nothing at all. 

Flight of Fiction (4)

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He remembered the moment he met her as though it had only been seconds ago.

He had been playing with his brother and sister in the fields by their home, which was nestled into the green hillside. All you could see of the house, once you were a good ways away, was its windows and it door, which looked almost like a tree stump from a distance. The house was hidden in shadow—but the fields were sunny, and the woods beyond had a stream and a pond, which was wonderful for skipping stones and hunting for frogs.

They played at tag for a long while, but his brother wasn’t very big yet and so he always ended up being “it” and unable to catch anyone else. The game dissolved, his siblings panting on the ground—his brother, relieved; his sister in a bit of a sulk.

He stood, still, and looked about him, eager to move to whatever game came next. He saw the edge of the forest and thought of the stream and the pound beyond it, and took off at a run, barreling towards his destination.

“Where are you going?” his sister called, but he was past replying. He had plunged into the pines, the russet pine needles crackling between his toes and he nimbly dodged the pine cones poking up through the straw like dragon’s teeth. That was it. Dragon’s teeth.

He grabbed a long stick that was jutting up from the ground and gave it an experimental swish or two. Every slayer of dragons needs a good sword, he thought as he ran, keeping a weather eye out for any villain that might be lurking in the dappled shadows.

He came to the stream. Not a stream now, but a roaring river—and the log he often used for crossing it was a rickety rope bridge, swaying dangerously in the wind. And below him, rearing its scaly head from the frothy current of the river, was a three-eyed water dragon, hissing and snarling. But with a few deft slices from his wooden blade, the creature burst into a shower of sparks which sizzled in the water. He ran on, victorious, unstoppable.

At last he reached the pond. In his mind, it was an enchanted lake—if you stared into it long enough and hard enough, the good elf who watched over the lake would show you your future. No one had told him this—he alone knew the lake’s secret. He knelt at the lake’s edge as he had many times before, staring into its depths hopefully. But all he saw was his own brown skin, his own pointed ears, his own wide blue eyes, and the pendant that swung from a leather cord around his neck.

He grasped the pendant with his gritty fingers and turned it up towards the light. The golden shape had always puzzled him. His father told him it was in the shape of the sun. But the sun was round, not oblong like the pendant. And the real sun had rays all around its face, unlike the shape on the leather cord, which only had rays curling out from one side. It had always seemed to him that the pendant was broken somehow—incomplete. It was interesting enough, he supposed, since it shone rather regally in the light and had a diamond-cut amber stone set in the middle. He suspected his sister was a bit jealous of the gem, but Father had told him the pendant was only ever passed down from father to son, and never to daughters. A pity, he though, since it seemed girlish to wear a necklace all the time, but his father told him he must never take it off.

He used the stone to catch the light and reflected it down on the water. The little point of light shimmered on the pond’s surface—it was a pond once again, now that he had lost the enchanted lake to other thoughts. He pivoted the pendant in his fingers, moving the little point of light further and further out, until it had danced to the pond’s other edge.

His heart stopped. There was a face on the other side of the pond, peering out of the rushes. He blinked, and it was gone.

He reached down and gripped his stick, but could not convince himself it was a sword. The presence of a real enemy frightened him out of make-believe. He heard rustling in the reeds around him, like an animal clawing towards him. He stood up, but found his feet were rooted to the spot. He could only cast his eyes about in terror, waiting.

Suddenly, a white blur tore from the reeds. He flinched, expecting death, but only received a stinging flick on his arm. Whatever it was, it was coming at him with a weapon like his own.

He anticipated the next blow, and the next. The creature was moving too quickly for him to see what it was, but he darted his long stick out again and again. The crack of stick on stick echoed through the clearing. Before long, the thing had backed him up to the stream, which gurgled menacingly behind him as he parried over and over.

He tripped on a root by the water’s edge. He felt his stomach lurch sickeningly as he toppled backwards.

But he did not fall in.

The thing was holding him up by the chord around his neck. It was too sturdy, and he was too light for it to break, so he hung there, his feet on the brink and his body suspended over the stream. For the first time, he looked into the eyes of his attacker.

They were brown.

He looked at the face that housed them. They were a girl’s.

A girl.

A girl with long brown hair that fell in a tangled curtain around her small, round face. She was wearing a long, shapeless dress that must have been white, once, but now bore all the smears and stains that childhood play inflicts. It hung down to her toes…which had little black claws instead of toenails.

And a long, gold-colored tail swished behind her slowly.

“What’re you?” he said, his nose wrinkling.

“What’re you?” she countered. “You haven’t got any tail. Did it get chopped off?”

“Of course I don’t have a tail.” He gulped. “Let me go.”

“Not sure I should,” she said, smiling mischievously. “You’ll get awful wet.”

“I mean, up—help me up.”

She pulled him forward, and he was on solid ground again. He couldn’t bring himself to thank her—his ears were still red from embarrassment. Instead, he gestured vaguely at her stick with his.

“You’re good.”

“Thank you,” she said, straightening to her full height—equal with his. “I know.”

That was when he saw it. Around her neck, hanging by a chain, was a silver crescent moon, a round, clear stone set in its middle.

“ZON!”

They both started at the sound. It was his sister, calling his name.

“Zon, where are you? Come back! It’s time for supper!”

He looked back at the girl, who was staring past him, startled.

“I’ve got to go,” Zon said.

“Will you come back anytime?” she asked, smiling a tiny smile, almost shyly.

“Sure,” he said. He knew he should say something else—something clever to make up for his embarrassing defeat—but all he could manage was:

“What’s your name?”

“Ameryn,” she said simply. Then she turned and disappeared into the woods. 

Escapes

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There are not enough adults in the world who are willing to admit that they miss childhood.

Alright, I know some people’s childhoods were awful—Awful with a capital “A.” There are, sadly, a great number of people whose childhoods were Dickensian in terms of horribleness, growing up as impoverished little Olivers or manipulated Estellas.

But every child grew up with a fantasy world. For some it was the digital world spoon-fed them by video games. For others, the worlds spread out for them on television shows or movies. And the truly lucky ones found their worlds hidden in the pages of books and built them on their own.

I was always horrible at crafting elaborate fantasy lands without the help of some outside source. My own inner sanctum was a combination of Narnia and Middle Earth that always turned out looking more like the Appalachian Mountains than anything else. I stopped talking about it with my friends because they often scoffed at its lack of originality. I go there still, every so often, but it’s faded and cracked around the edges, like an old black-and-white photo you might find in a trunk in the attic.

But it lives still. And I know I’m not the only one out there who still revisits the mental playgrounds of their childhoods.

I know there are others in the world who see a particularly beautiful painting hanging on a wall and long to step inside it and take a walk. I know there are others who open up old picture books and wish that more than anything they could just wrap themselves inside it, fall into it, and not come back again.

Adults never lose their ability to fantasize. Trouble is, when children grow up their thoughts turn to ambitious dreams of having money, power, romance, the esteem of others, security—or nobler dreams of saving lives or making a positive impact in the lives of others. There comes a point where, for whatever reason, Wendy can’t fly back to Neverland, and Peter and Susan are too old to return to Narnia.

But I know there are people in the world who hold these adult dreams in one hand while still holding their childhood dreams in another. Both are worth keeping and exploring. The worlds of our pasts effect our present worlds. The power of imagination produces some of the greatest art.

God made our minds to imagine things—otherwise worlds like Wonderland and Middle earth wouldn’t exist in anyone’s minds at all. God dreamed up the world and spoke it into existence. Since we’re made in His image, with His thumbprint on our souls, we imagine and create as well. He gave us our minds (and childhoods) for a reason. It’s best to use them, so that the little ones who follow us will have room to dream.

As a Little Child

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It is widely held that Christmas is a holiday for children. After all, secular celebrations of Christmas focus on giving toys, the belief (or lack thereof) in Santa Claus, whimsical talking snowmen, candy, and flying reindeer. For Christians, there is an emphasis on Christ Himself as a little child and the simplistic nature of the faith that brings us to His door. Perhaps this is why adults often find themselves more willing to put up with childishness at this time of year—in contrast to all the other seasons. Perhaps Christmas helps them see the eternal childishness in themselves, and they are more willing to give it free reign at Christmastime.

Adults try to soil the innocence of Christmas. They paint Santa as a dirty old man, deface nativity scenes, turn Christmas parties upside-down with drinking games, and, worst of all, replace the giving spirit of the season with a spirit of covetousness. Somewhere in the process of growing up, many of us forget what faith is. We decide we’re too old for it. Without that faith, we can respect nothing. Not even Christmas.

I spent the day babysitting three little boys with massive imaginations. My primary responsibility during the day was to assist in the construction of the world’s most complicated fort. I felt like a grown-up Wendy; an interloper in the world of these wild and wooly little lost boys. My fort-building abilities are limited at best, but I was taller and stronger than my supervisors, so I did a lot of the moving and placing and lifting. To them, this fort was serious business. No Nerf war can be fought without a proper set of defenses. Not if the general has any self-respect. Construction quality was key. To them, this fort was no mere pile of twigs. This was a castle. A barricade. A Helm’s Deep. When I allowed myself to view it as seriously as they did, I found myself working much harder to make everything right.

Christmas is a joyful time. It should always be a joyful time, unsullied by jealously, greediness, and sensuality. Christmas needs respect because of what began it in the first place. A Child. God Himself in the form of an infant, sacrificing a throne in heaven so He could die as one of us. It is childlike faith that will bring us to an acceptance of the salvation this Child offers us. If my three small friends could take something as simple as building a backyard fort so seriously, then surely the adults of the world can bring themselves to take God’s Gift of love very seriously indeed.  

Dreaming of a Grey Christmas

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The sun isn’t shining, the grass is brown, the heavens are bleak and grey. It’s lovely, I really must say—Christmas weather, the Anytown way.

Anytown is notorious for its unseasonal weather. Winter is normally more like early spring for the rest of the world: bleak, grey, and rainy. Autumn is more like a New England summer. Spring feels like summer in Texas. Summer is like the sunny side of Mars.

Needless to say, we rarely get snow here.

Two Christmases ago, we experienced the first white Christmas we’ve had in years. The following two winters have been unseasonably warm, with not so much as a single flake falling last winter. Not one.

The transplanted northerners who live in the area consider this one of Anytown’s finest features. They tell horror stories of shoveling snow in the wee hours of the morning and slogging through slush until early March, and other such northerly adventures incomprehensible to the Southern mind.

Honestly, most of us would love to live somewhere where snow is a regular occurrence. Especially those of us in the younger set. We grew up reading beautiful picture books with illustrations of children frolicking through the drifts, building massive snowmen and holding little snow wars with friends. Children in these stories play in the snow as if God had sent them a Christmas gift in the form of weather. You can’t play with rain, wind, or sunshine—and playing with hail is a health hazard. But you can play with snow.

When I was growing up, my mother and I would watch the weather reports from January until March, waiting for our one snow day. That’s right. Anytown would get one snow day every year, and usually only a couple of inches at that. But since Anytown is so ill-equipped to deal with the rare snowstorms that we get, town would shut down for the day and the whole family could stay at home. I would go out in the snow, get all tired and wet and frozen, but I would run back indoors for dry gloves and socks before plunging into the icy whiteness again to play for another hour or so. After a long day of this kind of activity, I would wrap myself in a blanket in front of the fireplace, book in hand, and try not to think about the fact that I’d have to go to school tomorrow, since the snow would have inevitably melted from the roads by then.

Now that I’m twenty, there is hardly any snow. And when we do get snow, I find I don’t have the energy to brave the drifts alone. One-sided snowball fights aren’t particularly fun. But snow is lovely, and it puts the world under a hush as though someone tucked the neighborhood up in a big, white blanket and told it that it was time for a nap.

Today is cold, rainy, and dreary—which is about as festive as the weather gets around here. This weather is beautiful, and I am grateful for it. But the child in my wants snow for Christmas almost more than anything else.

Sadly, a snowstorm is pretty much the only thing you can’t buy at Wal-Mart.

Peter Pan-ing

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As children, we learn to appreciate the value of a good story. Children know what it means to suspend disbelief long enough to really believe that genies live in lamps and fairy godmothers can get us out of tight places. They need to imagine. The child who never learns to imagine grows into a dull and inflexible adult.

Part of our childhoods lingers with us until the day we die. Picasso once said that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” While it is necessary to grow up and to grow up completely, there is a portion of us that must always remember what it is to be a child.

For me, that portion always manifests itself in the compulsion to watch old Disney movies.

There’s undeniable and unrepeatable artistry about those old movies. Nothing or very little relied on digital assistance. Everything was hand-drawn and hand-painted, giving the viewer the feeling of watching a movie picture-book illustration. The stories were unbeatable. As a girl, I watched them and understood them for their plot alone. Now I understand their art, their details, their humor, and the soul that runs deep at each story’s core.

Yes. Yes, I, as a twenty-year-old college student, sat down and watched Beauty and the Beast tonight. Since performing the story for my storytelling class, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the Disney version. I’ve been desperate to watch it ever since, and finally I’m home with a few moments of this rare thing called “spare time,” so I watched it. By gum. You’re never too old for a Disney movie. You’re never too old for a fairy tale. No matter how cynical or crustily “adult” we imagine ourselves to be, we all need to remember what it’s like to believe in the impossible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read a little Beatrix Potter and call it a night.

Turn Back Time

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My storytelling class is taught by a magnificent lady who I am half tempted to ask if she would like to be my adopted grandmother. Storytelling is currently a class of all girls, and we always leave class feeling especially well-mothered; she is one of those teachers who lets you know she cares about you, not by saying it outright, but by living it.

She read us an article today about how maintaining your inner child is important to being a good story teller. It talked about how children have a profound sense of wonder, trust, faith, and fun that for some reason we lose when we grow up.

What happens to adults that they think the innocence of childhood is so beneath them? When do we decide that we’re too “grown up” to appreciate the loveliness of a butterfly or the joy of a few moments on a swing? What horrible moment do we find we’re too busy to read a story, or too sophisticated to laugh at a joke that doesn’t carry a double entendre? When did we decide that fairy tales were too simplistic, or that faith was foolish? How does a child find it so easy to believe in God when grown-up, educated adults question everything they see or cannot see?

The world does not like trust. People disappoint each other. We all must admit that there are truly wicked people in the world who are simply not worth trusting. Somewhere around our late twenties, we encase ourselves in armor made from molten cynicism, and decide that there’s nothing on this planet worth believing in.

But a child trusts so freely. No wonder the Lord said that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We need a certain childlike faith to trust that God exists, or to trust Him even after we know He exists.

No matter how sophisticated we pretend ourselves to be, we still need that element of childishness—if only for the purpose of keeping our hearts dependent on Him.

Irony Explained

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Irony is when a parent says “I’ve told you a thousand times: don’t exaggerate!”

Irony is that guy who sped past you on the highway getting caught at a red light five seconds later.

Irony is taking every precaution not to forget that thing you had to go to and showing up on the wrong day.

Irony is having someone who hates theater tell you that you’re bad at acting.

Irony is finally finding your phone but realizing you misplaced the charger.

Irony is missing that one question on the test that you were quizzed over a week before and you swore you would remember the right answer.

Irony is taking extra care of your mouth after wisdom tooth surgery but getting an infection anyway because the dissolving stitches didn’t.

Irony is liking someone, being ignored, getting over him, and then have him turn around five years later and proclaim his undying love.

Irony is the contrast between a hyperactive 11-year-old with nothing to do and a hyper-busy twenty-year-old who knows exactly what she’d do with all that time.

Irony is dashed inconvenient.

A Matter of Taste

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As children, very few of us were adventurous eaters. I know kids who subsisted on PBJ and mac n’ cheese. Personally, I stuck to processed chicken with grill stripes lovingly painted on. But the rule of thumb was that whatever a kid eats, it can’t be anything the kid isn’t used to. Nothing new. No deviation. No weird flavor combinations. If you so much as change brands of cheese, the sensitive infantile taste buds will detect the difference on contact and the meal will be rejected.

But something happens at puberty. Ok, a lot happens at puberty, but I’m fairly certain that in addition to everything else our taste buds hit a growth spurt as well.

To see my theory in action, one has only to watch the eating habits of teenage boys. They go from eating nothing to eating everything in sight. They grow so fast they will consume everything available to fill the ever-widening hole between the tops and bottoms of their torsos. Trust me, girls do it, too. Their teenage hunger is insatiable. Add the usual teenage risk-taking impulses to the hunger and you’ll get an age group that will eat literally anything.

This varies with individuals, of course. Some remain set in their ways and manage to live on mac ‘n cheese and PBJ. Some will have nothing to do with casseroles or anything involving mayonnaise. And, hey, that’s okay. It takes all kinds. But most of us learn to be adventurous enough to try new things. Barring allergies, if it didn’t kill someone else, it probably won’t kill you either.

All of that to say that I just ate a bleu cheese burger patty slathered in peanut butter. And it was delicious, thank you very much.  

Nice Hooves

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Gender differences are fascinating. I don’t care what most modern thinkers (read: rabid feminists) say—there is a vast difference between boys and girls. All I have to do is watch them play to see how very wonderfully different the two are.

Little girls typically play with and do feminine things. Dolls. Stuffed animals. Playing “house.” The color pink. Granted, not all of us fit the stereotype. I personally hate the color pink, and dolls were never my thing. I did play house—but usually my house was a make-believe bower built in the woods where I was queen over some fairy realm and my husband was purely imaginary. Like I’ve said before, I was an only child and my imagination had a life of its own. I never really liked dolls—I was always afraid I would break them. But my stuffed animals I all knew by name. Another girl, a good friend of mine, was always very tomboyish, and playing house was far from her mind, but she still had the same inclination towards make-believe and stuffed animals and quiet play that I did. While it is not a universal truth, girls, in general, focus on the domestic when it comes to their play.

Boys, on the other hand, have a slightly less cozy approach to play. For whatever reason, most of them are obsessed with things that move. Namely trucks. I don’t know how many boys I know whose first word was “truck.” Little cherubic boys sitting in their car seats gaze out of the window and holler “Twuck!” every time a semi drives by. (As I recall, my reaction was always “Eek!”) They want toy trucks for Christmas. They want to drive trucks when they grow up. They want to be firemen because the fire trucks are so cool. “Mater” is their favorite character from Cars because, well, he’s a truck. While girls may not always have domestic tendencies, as far as I can tell, boys loving trucks is pretty much universal.

My question is, how did this tendency translate for little boys, say, a hundred years ago? When there were no trucks? Back in the days of the Pony Express, did little boys in their mothers arms stare out of the hay and feed store and lisp “Buggy!” every time one drove by? Rewind even further back to the Regency era. Did a little boy tug at his mother’s skirt, point and exclaim “Look, Mummy, a barouche!” Go even further back to ancient Rome. Did little boys beg their fathers to go to the Coliseum for the races, just so they could watch the chariots? Did teenaged Greeks look at each other’s horses and grunt (in Greek) “Dude, nice hooves”? What about at the dawn of time? Did Cain ever tear a little stone toy wheel from Able’s hands and yell “Mine”?

Inquiring minds want to know.