Through children's eyes, anticipation runs high
Making the Grade: Paul Tamburello
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
"My birthday is next month!" The speaker, eyes aglow, smile a mile wide, is elementary school-aged. Excitement oozes from every pore and threatens to levitate the child. Birthdays may not trump major holidays, but they certainly seem to turn an ignition key that revs up the motor of anticipation.
October ushered in a delicious season of anticipation for schoolchildren. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, loom large on a child's calendar. Children get more mileage out of special days than a Volkswagen gets from a gallon of gasoline. And they get excited about these occasions miles ahead of their parents and teachers. Kids began planning for Halloween not long after they ran out of their September supply of pencils and the aroma of their new notebooks and backpacks had faded. They could already tell you what they were going to wear, where they would trick or treat, and who they would be with.
I've witnessed entire cafeteria conversations, fueled by high-octane anticipation and peanut butter and jelly, get generated after one child's comment about an upcoming trip to Six Flags New England. Every kid around the table listened intently and then shared their own upcoming trips like the Fruit Roll-Ups they were eating for dessert.
That dreamy sense of anticipation is a force that buoys them up even if their school life has veered off the rails a bit. As child psychologist Dr. Sharon Gordetsky explains, "For all children, the role of imagination is a healthy coping skill. Anticipation is a force that kids use to propel themselves forward." Gordetsky, whose son is a Brookline High School student, adds "Anticipation can also help them get through the inevitable days whose outcome disappoints them."
They might be having a "my dog ate my homework" day, or it might be an indoor recess day, or they may have forgotten their sneakers for gym class, but just a few synapses away is the thought of that special day, and before you know it, they are in the "birthday zone" or the "going to Six Flags" zone. Immediate personal problems take a back seat to the imagined excitement on the highway ahead.
A satisfying mantle of perfection cloaks their anticipation. The event, yet to unfold, plays out flawlessly. It never rains; best friends are always in attendance; gifts are always just right; the lines for the roller coaster are always short. Love rules. The future trumps the past.
Boy, do I ever envy those kids. Somewhere along the road I think my suitcase with the anticipation tags tied to the handle got misplaced in the trunk. I can't think of a time I've slowed down to anticipate the joy of an upcoming holiday, birthday or special event that's a whole month away. I scribble the date in my calendar where, wedged in alongside the meetings with colleagues or parents, or assemblies to plan for, it takes on the same emotional weight as picking up my clothes at the dry cleaners.
Somehow a joyous sense of anticipation is overshadowed by all the "jobs" I have to do to prepare for the event: the shopping required; or the travel arrangements; or the gifts to buy and wrap; or the cards to select and write. It's work!
As I start planning for Thanksgiving, I'm going to take a page from my fourth-graders' playbook. Instead of thinking of the occasion in terms of the logistics involved, I'm going to highlight the date in yellow, signaling me to savor the thought of the good time I'll have when I do it.
Next, I'm going to start one of those high-octane cafeteria conversations myself. Instead of commenting how I dread driving up the Massachusetts Turnpike to the Berkshires with what seems like a million other cars at a parking lot speed the day before Thanksgiving, I'm going to tell my kids how excited I am to be celebrating that special day with some of the same relatives who welcomed me to my first Thanksgiving decades ago. Pass the Fruit Roll-Ups, please.
Paul Tamburello is a new regular TAB columnist. He is a writer and teacher who has taught in Brookline since 1970.