People,mostly adults, think you have to old to be a teacher: the longer you live, the more you have to teach those who are younger. I don’t think that is true. I think everyone, kids and adults, are always learners and teachers. Let me tell you three stories that prove my point.
When I was three years old I lived in an apartment near Princeton, New Jersey with my Mon and Dad. My Mom worked in a hospital in that town and my Dad went to school
there. One day my Dad and I went to town to pick up my Mom from work. We were early so my Dad took me to the graveyard in town. He liked to read the dates and names on the old tombstones. I was bored and thought that was dumb, so I started to explore; you know climbing on the tombstones and jumping off them. I remember rubbing my hands over the
tombstones, some were rough and some were smooth. When I got tired I lay down on the ground to watch an ant climbing on a tombstone.
It was just at that moment my Dad called out, “Matthew, where are you?”
I popped my head up, “Here I am.”
“Don’t go far, you don’t want to get lost”, he said as he went back to reading a tombstone.
I thought, “that sounds like a fun game”. I jumped up and ran to hide behind another tombstone.
Soon I heard my Dad call again, “Matthew, where are you?”
This time I did not answer. When he looked the other way, I got up and ran to hide behind a really big tombstone; it was like a little house. I couldn’t stop my self, I started to giggle.
“Matthew are you playing games with me?”
I giggled again and ran to hide behind another big tombstone. This time my Dad saw me and came running after me. Finally, he got the idea. That day we started our game, Lost and Found, and we played it many times in the Princeton graveyard when we had to wait for my Mom to finish work.
Teaching my Dad to play was not easy; he was always busy with thinking too much. When my Mom worked evenings at the hospital, my Dad and I would go for a walk along the canal that ran past the apartments. One afternoon we were walking along the canal, and as usual my Dad was thinking. He did not talk to me. He did not stop to look at interesting things along the way. I could not be like him. I was too curious. I saw this tree that had bark that you could peel off real easy. I learned the name of the tree later, it is called a Shag Bark Hickory. I peeled off some bark and took it over to the canal.
My Dad kept walking and thinking until he realized I was not by his side. He turned and saw me bending over the water in the canal. “Matthew, what are you doing? You could fall in the canal and drown!”
Parents, they always imagine the worst. I was not going to fall into the canal. I was making a Tubby the Tugboat and setting it off to sail to the ocean. I always liked that book.
My Dad came running back to where I was still kneeling over the water. He called out, “What are you doing? You are going to get dirty, and you could kill that tree”!
I did not say anything. I just went back and got another piece of bark from the tree. This time I picked up a fallen leaf from the tree and started to make a sail for my boat. When I was three I understood it was better to teach by example rather than by words. And I will say this for my Dad, if you could stop him from thinking, he did know how to play. We made a whole lot of boats that afternoon and told stories of their adventures going down to the sea. We did get pretty dirty. I hope we did not hurt that tree too much.
As I said teaching my Dad to play was not easy, but sometimes you play too much without any enough thinking. I learned that lesson. One evening my Mom was working at the hospital, and my Dad and I were at home alone. He was trying to study and I needed some action. I think it was a cold winter day and I had not been outside to play. I was running around the apartment with a whiffle bat and hitting things, I was pretending to kill bad guys. You know, whacking things like the sofa and chairs. Finally, my Dad hollered my name and told me to stop making so much noise. I ignored him. He hollered again, so I went into the bedroom, closed the door, and started to whack the bed as I continued my imaginary battle with an army of bad guys.
I was running back and forth in the bedroom when my Dad lost his temper. He came running into the bedroom screaming at me just as I came near to the door. He shoved the door open and I ran head first into the edge of the door. Next thing I knew I was on the floor with warm, red stuff, blood in my eyes. My Dad was crying and apologizing as he picked me up from the floor. I was scared, but I was thinking clearly enough to suggest that he called for an ambulance. I remember thinking while we waited for the ambulance, “what if all of the blood runs out of my head, will I be dead when it is all gone?” I was scared until I got to the hospital emergency room where my Mom was waiting for me.
My Dad and I both learned a lesson that night. He learned not to lose his temper. When you are big and strong, you can hurt a kid pretty easy, even though you do not mean to hurt him. I learned that I could get hurt, I could even die. I also learned that you cannot just do what you want to do without thinking of others.
There is a funny addition to this story. About a year ago my Dad and I were catching a baseball in the backyard. I threw the ball a little too high, it hit the branch of a tree and ricocheted toward my Dad. The ball hit him in the eye. He had to go the hospital and get stitches. Now we both have eighteen stitches in our heads!
My Dad and I have had some pretty good adventures together, and I have done my best to teach him how to be a kid again. I think I have done a pretty good job. You know what my Dad does to make money, now that he is finished with going to school? He tells stories to kids in school. I figure what I have taught him is just as important as anything he learned in that school in Princeton, New Jersey.