Some friends of ours have a little boy age 12 with mental retardation. His development is close to an 8 year old. A few weeks ago, they were on a family outing at a local aquarium when he suddenly disappeared. They franticly searched for him, as parents would do. During the search, he came strolling around the corner without a care in the world, oblivious to the certain panic his parents felt. Instantly his parents noticed that his pants were soaking wet. Recently he has become very consciousness about his body so they did not want to ask him in front of the growing crowd why his pants were wet. They thought maybe he had an accident and took his pants off and tried to wash them in the sink. While this seems a bit unusual his mental challenges often lead him to have a disconnect between cause and effect as well as limit his problem solving ability. They hugged their son and headed home.
The little boy was quiet for the entire ride. He had no interest in discussing the incident. His parents did not push the issue. When they got home, he went immediately to his room and closed the door. After about one hour, his parents decided to check in on him since he had still not emerged from his room. As they opened the door, the scene they witnessed instantly surprised them; in fact, they were so shocked they closed the door and reopened it to make sure they were not seeing things. There was a baby penguin walking around their son’s room. Their son was dancing around as if he was at a party. They stood frozen in shock for a few moments then in amazement, they watched what few if any parents had ever witnessed; a private penguin party in their own house. A multitude of questions started running through their minds and now the wet pants made sense. They proceed to ask their son how he got the penguin. The little boy used animated motions as he explained to his dad that he emptied his backpack, walked across the outdoor pool, picked up a baby penguin and put it into his backpack. All the time the little boy still had a very limited understanding that he had stolen an animal that could not live in his bedroom with him forever.
Needless to say, when his parents called the aquarium they went through several people before they could actually get a staff member to perform a headcount on the penguins. As expected the little boys schoolbooks were at the exhibit and they were missing a penguin. The staff came to the little boy’s house and brought him a stuffed penguin to exchange for the real one.
The uninhibited nature of children and their constant quest to explore are two traits that as an adult I have had difficulty keeping in context. It is so easy for my daily “to do” list and politically correct adult life to get in the way of exploring the world around me. Watching children’s actions brings my mind back to a time when I cared less about my “to do” list and more about what I explored and what I can learn as I explore. This year I have gone back to college at age 39. I often feel like a child. There is so much to learn and I get such a thrill out of exploring new information. I believe that the only difference between an adult and a child is that an adult can choose when to act like a child. Since I have my own backpack now, I want my own baby penguin.
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