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A child's calling

Many moons ago, very many, I conducted a writer's workshop with a vibrant missionary group in Little Rock, Arkansas. We worked all through a Friday night to publish their first newsletter. The main article was on the organization's new elementary school. Every time I mentioned writing about the "kids," Sister Cheryl and Company would glower at me and say, "We do not call our children kids! Kids are baby goats. We call our children, children."
They never let me off the hook, not once. They smiled, they laughed, they forgave my intransigence, but they never let me get by with calling their children kids.

At the time, I thought it was dear of them. Now, almost 20 years later, I can see that it was visionary. The word, children, is disappearing from the American vocabulary. They're all kids now, even on PBS, the media refuge for children in our contemporary, cluttered clot of cable and network programming. Pick up the kids, feed the kids, take care of the kids. When they're no longer kids but not quite teenagers, they are called tweens. Our language has taken our children from livestock, or something we don't take seriously (You're kidding, right?) to--to a word that isn't, even.

"Kids" was fun, kids was cute, as long as children could still be children, as long as multicolored tennis shoes could be shed, and bare feet curled under tucked covers while mothers and fathers read a bit of Longfellow, Carroll, or Stevenson--with illustrations that encouraged budding minds to unfold into dreaming hours.

"Kids" is not cute anymore. With each quickly passing 21st-century year, our children have fewer and fewer opportunities and less and less time to be children. We can start to change that. Now. With a word.

And bless you, Sister Cheryl, wherever you are.

Photo and text, copyright 2006, Ysabel de la Rosa, All rights reserved.

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