A Human Request

A friend of my six-year-old called on the phone looking for him. He was out. I knew this particular boy would persist in trying to reach him, so I responded that he could try again in a few hours, and I'd also try to remember to tell my son that he'd called. His little voice came back, in a tone both plaintive and indignant: "Can't you write him a message?"

In a house full of adults who do a lot of work from home, we get lots of calls, and take phone messages all the time. I try to be good about writing them down and getting them delivered, knowing that they're likely to be important communications. But when the children's friends call, I nearly always rely on memory alone.

Thinking about this disparity for the first time, I listened to the flood of rationalizations in my mind. "But these other messages could be really important. Anyhow, I know this little boy will call again. And, after all, it's just a matter of wanting to play. It isn't like somebody really needs to talk with somebody else. And I can't be expected to write down a message every time a child calls--I do it enough with the adults already."

But I kept hearing this child's voice in my mind. "Couldn't you write him a message?" It sounded very much like "Couldn't you treat the two of us like regular human beings?"

He had a point. His communication with my son was as important to him as any adult's communication is with my husband. He deserved the simple courtesy that I always extend to adults on the phone. Yet he was a child--and I had done what we all do, probably dozens of times a day. I had discounted some part of him, solely on the basis of his age. I had assumed that my adult point of view carried more weight than his. I had treated him with less than full respect.

It was a little thing, but it has stayed in my mind ever since. It happens all the time. We listen to children's stories and news with less attention than we would give an adult. We interrupt more readily. We assume that our work, our needs, our wishes carry greater weight. When there is a difference of opinion, or when we are in conflict with our children, we nearly always assume that our position is right--and usually act on that assumption without a second thought.

We are born and bred into this way of interacting with children. It pervades every aspect of our culture. We rarely even consider that there could be an alternative. But it just doesn't sit quite right with me any more. I can't see any logical human reason for treating one whole group of people with less respect, simply because they haven't been around as long as me.

So I wrote down the message. And I am thankful to that little boy for requiring it of me. it was just a small thing--but I may never forget it. I can still hear his little voice saying, in essence, "Couldn't you treat us like regular human beings?"