To Peak at Twelve

by Abbye Meyer | 10/30/01 6:00am

I went to Boston on Sunday to buy a pumpkin. Well, that's not entirely true, but I did go to Boston, and I did come back with a pumpkin. It was one of those lucky things that happen without warning but fit perfectly into everything you're thinking about and doing.

On Saturday, I asked a friend if he needed anything from the grocery store, since I was going. He told me that all he wanted was a pumpkin. Sadly, there were no good ones available, so I returned empty handed. And then I skipped out of town the next day.

Unlike those Dartmouthians who traveled to Boston this weekend for the big Harvard game or whatever, I went to the city to lose my collegiate identity and hang out with some cool kids. I worked this summer at a writing camp for middle-school kids, and they held a reading on Sunday to celebrate the work they accomplished.

The reading had refreshments, and the refreshments were adorned with pumpkins. Luckily enough, my boss gave me one of those pumpkins before I left, and the whole weekend fell into place. So perfect, it reminded me of some things I just can't ignore.

Plainly and simply, it's more fun to hang out with kids than with adults (and by "kids," I do include people of our age who still appreciate the spirit of a pumpkin in October). I had known this before, but the lesson really hit me hard this weekend, as I sat with 10, 11 and 12 year-olds who are funnier, more brilliant and more honest than anyone else I know.

Certainly, such an experience has made it easier to handle being called a child on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it seems that one can't laugh and make stupid jokes and flop around without being accused of being nine. But rather than an insult, maybe I should take it as a compliment.

Maybe I should look up to the kids around me, and even the adults who can't act their ages, as well. Maybe I should wish that I had been the one who yakked up chocolate milk on the table last week, rather than my laughing-too-hard housemate. Maybe I should be the one making bows and arrows out of tree branches, rather than my other housemate, the playing-games one.

If it'll make me more of a kid, then O.K. For kids -- at least the ones I've been around -- seem to have the good human qualities and haven't yet gained the bad. (I must acknowledge, of course, that some people are bad seeds from the beginning, but I'm making these sweeping statements based on my favorite younger friends.)

The ones I saw on Sunday wrote beautiful and hilarious stories, listened to each other's beautiful and hilarious stories, and then discussed great issues of identity, academia and friendship. Indeed, some of the most astute and moving statements that I have heard about the world's current situation have been uttered by those under 12.

Kids pay attention to what's important, while still appreciating the little things, like the interesting shapes of apples and the different types of cookies on refreshment tables.

But they don't do stupid stuff that the rest of us do and accept on a daily basis. They don't spend nights awake in the library writing papers and stressing out about schoolwork. Kids wouldn't adorn the exit of the Collis Caf with a giant fan, a monstrous obstruction that blows away salads and forces already-rushed eaters into states of stress and clumsiness. They wouldn't take away the perfectly easy, useful and convenient DCIS library catalog thing, which used to let us look up books without being thrown into the messy world of Netscape Navigator. But we are now adults, big dumb adults.

Kids read better books than we do, and they appreciate those books for beauty and emotion rather than for their technical and literary greatness. They watch better movies and don't pick their favorite CDs based on what's cool.

And most importantly, of course, kids like pumpkins. For no reason other than that they're fun and autumny and happy.

With all of that in mind, who wants to grow up? It's sure too bad that we have to, and it's too bad that, when we meet great people under the age of 15 or so, we feel compelled to say dumb things like, "He'll be so cool when he's older," or, "Imagine what she'll be like as an adult."

Maybe we should quit living in such an adult-centric world and start viewing 12 as our peak age. We could have a big party then, instead of at 40, and just acknowledge that it's all downhill from there; or better yet, we could just try to stay 12 for as long as possible, maybe forever.