Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Eating Habits

The famous adage, "You learn something new every day", is especially true if you have kids, or spend any length of time with them. Kids have a way of saying things, seeing things, questioning things, that we as adults seem to lose. It's a kind of honesty and direct approach that where an adult would think twice about the ramifications of what they are about to say, children just want to know. Their inquisitive nature is their no-holds-barred method to a greater understanding of the world around them.

This week, one of my kids found out that in a previous life I used to be a soldier. It's not a fact I hide, neither is it something I'm ashamed of. It's just never come up in conversation. She found a photo of me in greens, carrying a semi-automatic, and looking every part the soldier. She looked, digested, dissected, and then came out with the question that I could clearly see was troubling her 6-year-old mind.

"Did you kill anyone?"


I didn't see that one coming. I thought about it for a minute, and told her about people not joining the army to kill people. Soldiers are in the army to care for other people. To secure their land. To safeguard their way of life. Forget the politics. Six-year-olds don't care about it. If she did, she'd have asked about the legal ramifications for the Iraq War, the troops being in Afghanistan, and what the new coalition government plans to do about it all. Clearly not very likely.

She wanted to know about her dad, and I answered her intended question.

All my kids know what I do now. Obviously. They're proud to say that their dad's a paramedic, and if you were to ask any of them what my job description is, they'd each tell you, in their own inimitable style, that I save people's lives, or I go and help the sick and injured, or something along the same sorts of lines. Sometimes, if I come home looking particularly harassed, said 6-year-old will ask if I saved anybody at work, or how many people did I look after, but she has never yet asked me if anybody died. Her question about the army taught me a little about how the little people around us perceive the confusing world around them. To my six-year-old, the following is her view of the world:

Soldiers kill, Paramedics save.

As adults, on the other hand, we look at the world through completely different eyes. Our vision is blurred by stereotype, cynicism, media portrayal, politics, and a small dose of reality. After the "army question", I was left thinking about perception in general, and of the ambulance service in particular. I sent out a tweet to my followers asking a very simple question: "What is the first question/reaction you get as a paramedic/EMT when being introduced to someone new?" A simple question, but the answer to which is probably reduced to a bare half-dozen similar answers.

"Wow, that's interesting", or "How cool", or "You must see some horrible things".

Of course there are the silly ones, like "Do you drive on lights and sirens just to get back for a cup of coffee?" I'd love to say yes to that one, but no. Unfortunately not.

I find that there's one more. Often not the first question or reaction, but is asked on a very frequent basis.

"What's the worst thing you've ever seen?"

I refuse to answer that one honestly. The adult in me forbids it. Anyone asking that question doesn't really want to hear what the worst things are to see, and I know they don't. I know because once upon a time when I was much newer, I'd answer with the truth. Except that after the first three words they'd cover their ears and yell for me to stop. "Stop! No more! I can't understand how you do it!" Now my answer tends to be about the latest delivery I assisted with, and the mess all over the place. It's enough for most.

There's an element in all of us that wants to hear the gory story, to hear about the trauma. It's what makes any person driving past the scene of an accident drive slower in order to take a look, but drive much quicker if there's any risk of actually finding out. The childlike curiosity that is in all of us often makes way for the cynicism of an adult's view of the universe. We really want to know, but not at any cost.

Children have a thirst for knowledge that we as adults have quenched by reality.

Children are on a quest, a treasure-hunt searching for understanding, whilst we as adults we want to rest at the starting line, ignoring all the clues and helpful hints.

As adults we always have much to learn, but not always the hunger to do so. We'd do well to look at the children around us, and learn a little from their hunger. And from their eating habits.

That's what helps them grow.


Ambulance Amateur said...

Excellent post.

I SOOOO much agree that younger kids have a genuine search for knowledge. Most of them also seem relatively unshockable, probably because they don't really understand the consequences of serious situations. "Dead" means count to 50 before you can rejoin the game!

It's a pity that we can't always retain the thirst for knowledge when we mature. Having said that, I finished my (OU) degree whe I was in my 40s and I'm considering doing another one.

Sure, kids love gory stories (to a point) but it's about exploring the world. Most of them, at least in the West, live in safe environments and they are trying to learn about the rest of humanity.

May your kids retain their enquiring minds long after they are kids.

RBS321 said...

Great post - thought provoking

Anonymous said...

Incredibly well written (no surprises there!)


theMadScientist said...

I wish I was a child again...
Life was so simple then.

Anonymous said...

Ambulane Amateur:

" "Dead" means count to 50 before you can rejoin the game! "

Not always. You want to watch what you tell kids, and how they feel when you do. Not that you shouldn't tell them stuff, but really, be careful how you do it (especially if they're not your kids).

When I was 3, someone told me the Easter story. I know I was 3 because I know where I was living, and we moved house not long after. Someone told me about nailing a man to a cross. I was too little to understand, even if they told me (and I don't remember whether they did or not), that the story was about redemption, forgiveness, resurrection, all that stuff. All I heard was the bit about pain, and death. And I really did understand about death. No one I knew, not even a cat, had ever died at that point, but I still understood. And it was still bothering me the following Christmas, at least 6 months later, when I didn't want to sign kisses in cards for my family.. kisses were crosses, and I didn't want to use them.
But I never told my mum or dad about any of this until I was in my late teens. And they certainly never worked it out (I don't think it was them that told me.. as they were neither of them church goers I can't think why they would have done).

On the other hand, when I was a bit older, I think not quite 5 (so my little sister would have been just 3), our great uncle died. We'd only met him once, but while my sister was fascinated by the idea of Great Uncle Ron in his box, and would ask my mum endless questions about funerals and so forth as we walked past the cemetry to the post office, I'd have to run on ahead to get away from them.

So yeah. If you tell a kid about "the gory details", just bear in mind they're all different (and that just because one is asking you interested questions about something doesn't mean any others around you are also keen to know all this stuff. Some kids seriously over-think things.