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What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
- By Lise Eliot, Ph.D

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Lessons our children taught us

By Chang Hsiao Peng


In their innocence, children often reveal to adults meanings in life that they, hardened through the years, fail to see.

My husband was going to lead a choir on a cross-country singing tour. Since it was during the school holidays, we decided to take our eight-year-old son Shih-shih and five-year-old daughter Ching-ching with us.

On the eve of the returning home after a week's performance, my husband asked our little girl, "Which do you like more, traveling or going home?"
"Going home, of course." Ching-ching said without a moment's hesitation.
"In that case," her father teased her, "we shall not take you with us on our next trip."
"But, Daddy, how can I go home unless you take me on the road first?"

The same is true of life: there will always be confusion before awakening and a wound before healing. He who never leaves his home will never know the joy of return.

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Ching-ching did not utter as much as a cry when she fell two days ago. But now she could not even lift her left arm. She had fractured her clavicle and it hurt terribly. Feeling responsible for her pain, which was expected to last a while, I was miserable. But Ching-ching surprised me with a discovery. "Mom," she cried excitedly, "I know which side is left now!" She had not been able to distinguish right from left until the accident. Now, it was easy - the side that hurt was the left.

Remember the saying "When God closes all doors, he opens a window"? Often, we spend so much energy banging on closed doors that we forget to feel the breeze through the open window.

#####

Ching-ching was playing quietly at my feet as I worked at my desk. Suddenly she held my bare toes in her hand and, tilting her little head up to me, said happily, "Mom, I love your foot!"
"What?"
"I love your foot," she repeated.

I dropped my work, completely shocked. I have been loved for my rosy cheeks (when I was 17), I have been praised for my deep, gentle voice, and I have been admired by many for my books. But who loves me more than this tiny child fondling my toes with her hands? She loves my foot - because it is a part of me; she loves this part of my body that no others, not even myself, ever took notice of, much less loved.

#####

Shih-shih loved Chinese calligraphy. He loved it even though his writing could hardly be called calligraphy and even though he often splashed ink all over, staining the paper he was writing on with black blots here and there.

One day, an older relative came by and saw him practicing calligraphy. "Hey, that's not bad. Keep writing, and very soon you will be better than others in your class." "Oops," I groaned inside. Shih-shih, I knew, was not going to like it. To be sure, he snapped, rather arrogantly, "I don't want to be better than others."
"Then why do you practice?" the relative persisted.
"It makes me feel good if I do a good job at it. I do not care whether I surpass others or not."

The desire to excel may be a strong driving force in the making of successful entrepreneurs or artists. But a big heart that does not want to put the other guy down allows one to roam in the expanse of the intellectual universe, peaceful and content.

#####

As we got ready for a trip, Chingching tried to stuff a whole travel bag with her dolls, big and small, old and new.
"No, dear," I said, "you can only take the one you like most. Which one do you like most?"
She examined each and everyone of the dolls carefully. Some were beautiful, others torn and tattered. Some had cost us a lot, others were given to her by friends who didn't want them any more. Then she declared, "I like them all!"
"You cannot like them all," I insisted. "Pick the one you like most."
"I like them all," she said. Her voice told me there could be no more debate. She liked them all. Period.

The distinction between beautiful and ugly or expensive and inexpensive exists only in an adult's world. To a child, the subject's worth or looks has nothing to do with its status in her heart. I let her take all her dolls on the trip.

#####

I was late going home for lunch one cold, rainy day. The others had all eaten. Ching-ching, snuggling up to me, wanted a piece of bean curd. "Oh, Mom, your chopsticks are so warm," she cried with exhilaration as I gave her a piece of bean curd. I stopped short, not knowing what she meant. Only moments later did I realize that because it was such a cold day, I had reheated the food in a pot and taking it out of the pot with my chopsticks made them warm. But to show such jubilation over a pair of warm chopsticks, as if cheering for a major event!

People praise vintage wines and gourmet foods. Only a five-year-old rejoices in the warm tip of a pair of chopsticks on a cold afternoon. How many opportunities we must have missed to marvel at the simple and beautiful in our everyday lives.



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