A few days ago I went to a very interesting talk at The Waldorf School of South West London. The speaker was a lady called Erika Grantham and the talk was entitled “Doing not talking”, aimed to parents and school tutors for kindergarten. No need to say the environment was ever so peaceful relaxing and very welcoming. The thought that in that same room children spend their days made me somehow jealous.
All the colours were soft and warm, there was a nature table with natural flowers and hanging from the ceiling a beautiful weeping willow branch, with some of the ends covered in green, symbolising the spring buds. As you can imagine we sat in tiny chairs in a circle, and perhaps the mood of the room was so calming whoever entered automatically pulled a couple of gears down and spoke very softly and calm.
Regarding our speaker, Erika, she was quietly sitting down, facing all of us, observing and I think enjoying herself with the surroundings as we were. How can I describe her, a tiny woman oozing the strength of a titan, and at the same time that lovely gran from the fairy tales that you wish you could have her as your next door neighbour. With a strong German accent she opened the talk and her words still resound. She spoke about the will, the fantasy and the imagination in a child and on how nowadays all three of them are manipulated by the comforts of modern high tech living.
From this talk and particularly the part of imagination, I remember quite well an episode when I was working regarding this subject.
It was a very cold evening, and we were waiting for a train that was delayed. That train was coming from Disneyland, and I was prepared to greet grumpy parents, overtired children and anxious travellers. But nothing prepared me for the story I’m about to tell you.
As I was saying, I was waiting for the train to arrive; I was informed that a wheelchair passenger was on board, so I was there on the platform with the ramp ready to be deployed as soon as the train stopped. The train arrived, doors were opened and I started to deploy the ramp for this passenger.
To my surprise, the first passengers to come down the ramp were two boys, who were obviously excited to be back. As you can imagine I kept an eye on these two – who were no more than 7 years old – because I did not see an adult coming after them. So I just stood there, with the ramp fully opened and waiting for the wheelchair passenger to come along.
These two boys were talking between them, and they were dangerously close to the edge of the platform. Obviously they had not thought about the danger – at that age they are not fully conscious of it – and they were quite persistent trying to look underneath the train, and close to the rails. It is worth mentioning that the gap between the train and the platform is quite substantial and the depth of this gap is substantial as well.
I was a bit uncomfortable watching these two so close, so carelessly close to the edge so I decided to walk towards them, you know in a very casual way. As soon as I approached, they came to me, hesitating and talking. Finally after a discussion of “no, you ask” “no you do it””you ask go on” the question came out.
– “Is it really dead people under the train?” blurted one of them.
I have to say, I have heard, I have been asked so many things when I was working, that I could write a catalogue with details and even so probably I would miss a few. But this question? NEVER. Imagine my shock when they asked me, I simply could not believe for one second that 2 seven year old boys were asking me that.
– How about you move with me away from the edge and then I tell you? I said, calmly and with a smile on my face as if the question was the most natural thing to ask.
– But if we move – said one of them – we won’t be able to see the dead people!
– Well, I’m afraid it is dangerous to be so close to the edge, so please come with me and I tell you all about it.
They agreed, perhaps under the illusion the dead people would emerge from underneath the train and grab them. Although that sounded like the right thing to say to get them away from the edge of the platform– thinking back on reflection – at the time it did not cross my mind to say it. I did see some excitement in their eyes waiting for the promised answer. But my answer was not an answer, was another question.
– What makes you think they are dead people under the train?
– Because in this game we are playing the dead people hide under the train – started one of the boys
– And then – said the other – you have to kill them all!
– Yes, yes, and the more you kill the more dead people appear and then you have to kill them!! – said the one who asked the question in the first place.
All I managed to say is “Ohh….I see” completely astonished.
At that same time the wheelchair passenger was making his way down the ramp and who I think it was the father called them and off they went. But before they went, they did ask again.
– So, are there dead people then?
– Josh, Matt, come back here right now! – Said the man
– I was folding back the ramp and I answered them “Of course not! There is not such a thing”.
The disappointment in their faces was beyond words to describe it. They went back to the adults who were getting ready to leave the platform with all their bags and suitcases whilst I was making my way back to the office to clock out and go home. Nothing that happened that day could top this last event.
Needless to say this “3 minute conversation” still very clear in my mind because it did shock me and every time I recall it still does. And after listening to lovely Erika and all her wealth of knowledge I started to comprehend – understand is not the right word in this case – as to why these two boys posed such a question. The first thing that comes to my mind is “their imagination is corroded” by these new games and paraphernalia that surrounds children nowadays. Fair point, children do have to know that those games exist, violence is a real deal, and life is not as rosy as we, parents, expect it to be. We, parents, do our best to keep life as rosy as possible, but the fact remains; reality is not a soft pillow, rolling hills with green grass and perfectly blue skies.
But then again, isn’t childhood what it is all about? Blue skies, rolling hills with green grass and soft pillows? So, why corrupt it so soon and so fast?