The American Child
by Elizabeth Mccracken
With Illustrations from photographs by Alice Austin
to My Father And Mother
The purpose of this preface is that of every preface—to say "thank you" to the persons who have helped in the making of the book.
I would render thanks first of all to the Editors of the "Outlook" for permission to reprint the chapters of the book which appeared as articles in the monthly magazine numbers of their publication.
I return thanks also to Miss Rosamond F. Rothery, Miss Sara Cone Bryant, Miss Agnes F. Perkins, and Mr. Ferris Greenslet. Without the help and encouragement of all of these, the book never would have been written.
Finally, I wish to say an additional word of thanks to my physician, Dr. John E. Stillwell. Had it not been for his consummate skill and untiring care after an accident, which, four years ago, made me a year-long hospital patient, I should never have lived to write anything.
CAMBRIDGE, January, 1913
I. THE CHILD AT HOME II. THE CHILD AT PLAY III. THE COUNTRY CHILD IV. THE CHILD IN SCHOOL V. THE CHILD IN THE LIBRARY VI. THE CHILD IN CHURCH CONCLUSION
COMPANIONS AND FRIENDS THREE SMALL GIRLS THE BOY OF THE HOUSE "DID YOU PLAY IT THIS WAY?" THE DEAR DELIGHTS OF PLAYING ALONE "THE CHILDREN—THEY ARE SUCH DEARS" A SMALL COUNTRY BOY ARRAYED IN SPOTLESS WHITE THEY PAINT PICTURES AS A REGULAR PART OF THEIR SCHOOL ROUTINE THEY DO SO MANY THINGS! THEY HAVE SO MANY THINGS! THE STORY HOUR IN THE CHILDREN'S ROOM THE CHILDREN'S EDITION IN THE INFANT CLASS "DO YOU LIKE MY NEW HYMN?" CHILDREN GO TO CHURCH
One day several years ago, when Mr. Lowes Dickinson's statement that he had found no conversation and—worse still—no conversationalists in America was fresh in our outraged minds, I happened to meet an English woman who had spent approximately the same amount of time in our country as had Mr. Lowes Dickinson. "What has been your experience?" I anxiously asked her. "Is it true that we only 'talk'? Can it really be that we never 'converse'?"
"Dear me, no!" she exclaimed with gratifying fervor. "You are the most delightful conversationalists in the world, on your own subject—"
"Our own subject?" I echoed.
"Certainly," she returned; "your own subject, the national subject,—the child, the American child. It is possible to 'converse' with any American on that subject; every one of you has something to say on it; and every one of you will listen eagerly to what any other person says on it. You modify the opinions of your hearers by what you say; and you actually allow your own opinions to be modified by what you hear said. If that is conversation, without a doubt you have it in America, and have it in as perfect a state as conversation ever was had anywhere. But you have it only on that subject. I wonder why," she went on, half- musingly, before I could make an attempt to persuade her to qualify her rather sweeping assertion. "It may be because you do so much for children, in America. They are always on your mind; they are hardly ever out of your sight. You are forever either doing something for them, or planning to do something for them. No wonder the child is your one subject of conversation. You do so very much for children in America," she repeated.
Few of us will agree with the English woman that the child, the American child, is the only subject upon which we converse. Certainly, though, it is a favorite subject; it may even not inaptly be called our national subject. Whatever our various views concerning this may chance to be, however, it is likely that we are all in entire agreement with regard to the other matter touched upon by the English woman,—the pervasiveness of American children. Is it not true that we keep them continually in mind; that we seldom let them go quite out of sight; that we are always doing, or planning to do, something for them? What is it that we would do? And why is it that we try so unceasingly to do it?
It seems to me that we desire with a great desire to make the boys and girls do; that all of the "very much" that we do for them is done in order to teach them just that—to do. It is a large and many-sided and varicolored desire, and to follow its leadings is an arduous labor; but is there one of us who knows a child well who has not this desire, and who does not cheerfully perform that labor? Having decided in so far as we are able what were good to do, we try, not only to do it ourselves, in our grown-up way, but so to train the children that they, too, may do it, in their childish way. The various means that we find most helpful to the end of our own doing we secure for the children,—adapting them, simplifying them, and even re-shaping them, that the boys and girls may use them to the full.
There is, of course, a certain impersonal quality in a great deal of what we, in America, do for children. It is not based so much on friendship for an individual child as on a sense of responsibility for the well-being of all childhood, especially all childhood in our own country. But most of what we do, after all, we do for the boys and girls whom we know and love; and we do it because they are our friends, and we wish them to share in the good things of our lives,—our work and our play. To what amazing lengths we sometimes go in this "doing for" the children of our circles!
One Saturday afternoon, only a few weeks ago, I saw at the annual exhibit of the State Board of Health, a man, one of my neighbors, with his little eight-year old boy. The exhibit consisted of the customary display of charts and photographs, showing the nature of the year's work in relation to the milk supply, the water supply, the housing of the poor, and the prevention of contagious diseases. My neighbor is not a specialist in any one of these matters; his knowledge is merely that of an average good citizen. He went from one subject to the other, studying them. His boy followed close beside him, looking where his father looked,—if with a lesser interest at the charts, with as great an intentness at the photographs. As they made their way about the room given over to the exhibit, they talked, the boy asking questions, the father endeavoring to answer them.
The small boy caught sight of me as I stood before one of the charts relating to the prevention of contagious diseases, and ran across the room to me. "What are you looking at?" he said. "That! It shows how many people were vaccinated, doesn't it? Come over here and see the pictures of the calves the doctors get the stuff to vaccinate with from!"
"Isn't this an odd place for a little boy on a Saturday afternoon?" I remarked to my neighbor, a little later, when the boy had roamed to the other side of the room, out of hearing.
"Not at all!" asserted the child's father. "He was inquiring the other day why he had been vaccinated, why all the children at school had been vaccinated. Just before that, he had asked where the water in the tap came from. This is just the place for him right now! It isn't odd at all for him to be here on a Saturday afternoon. It is much odder for me" he continued with a smile. "I'd naturally be playing golf! But when children begin to ask questions, one has to do something about answering them; and coming here seemed to be the best way of answering these newest questions of my boy's. I want him to learn about the connection of the state with these things; so he will be ready to do his part in them, when he gets to the 'voting age.'"
"But can he understand, yet?" I ventured.
"More than if he hadn't seen all this, and heard about what it means," my neighbor replied.
It is not unnatural, when a child asks questions so great and so far- reaching as those my neighbor's small boy had put to him, that we should "do something about answering them,"—something as vivid as may be within our power. But, even when the queries are of a minor character, we still bestir ourselves until they are adequately answered.
"Mamma," I heard a little girl inquire recently, as she fingered a scrap of pink gingham of which her mother was making "rompers" for the baby of the family, "why are the threads of this cloth pink when you unravel it one way, and white when you unravel it the other?"
The mother was busy; but she laid aside her sewing and explained to the child about the warp and the woof in weaving.
"I don't quite see why that makes the threads pink one way and white the other," the little girl said, perplexedly, when the explanation was finished.
"When you go to kindergarten, you will," I suggested.
"But I want to know now," the child demurred.
The next day I got for the little girl at a "kindergarten supply" establishment a box of the paper woofs and warps, so well-known to kindergarten pupils. Not more than three or four days elapsed before I took them to the child; but I found that her busy mother had already provided her with some; pink and white, moreover, among other colors; and had taught the little girl how to weave with them.
"She understands, now, why the threads of pink gingham are pink one way and white the other!" the mother observed.
"Why did you go to such trouble to teach her?" I asked with some curiosity.
"Well," the mother returned, "she will have to buy gingham some time. She will be a grown-up 'woman who spends' some day; and she will do the spending the better for knowing just what she is buying,—what it is made of, and how it is made!"
It is no new thing for fathers and mothers to think more of the future than of the present in their dealings with their boys and girls. Parents of all times and in all countries have done this. It seems to me, however, that American fathers and mothers of to-day, unlike those of any other era or nation, think, in training their children, of what one might designate as a most minutely detailed future. The mother of whom I have been telling wished to teach her little girl not only how to buy, but how to buy gingham; and the father desired his small boy to learn not alone that his state had a board of health, but that he might hope to become a member of a particular department of it.
We occasionally hear elderly persons exclaim that children of the present day are taught a great many things that did not enter into the education of their grandparents, or even of their parents. But, on investigation, we scarcely find that this is the case. What we discover is that the children of to-day are taught, not new lessons, but the old lessons by a new method. Sewing, for example: little girls no longer make samplers, working on them the letters of the alphabet in "cross- stitch"; they learn to do cross-stitch letters, only they learn not by working the entire alphabet on a square of linen merely available to "learn on," but by working the initials of a mother or an aunt on a "guest towel," which later serves as a Christmas or a birthday gift of the most satisfactory kind! Perhaps one of the best things we do for the little girls of our families is to teach them to take their first stitches to some definite end. Certainly we do it with as conscientious a care as ever watched over the stitches of the little girls of old as they made the faded samplers we cherish so affectionately.
The brothers of these little girls learned carpentry, when they were old enough to handle tools with safety. The boys of to-day also learn it; some of them begin long before they can handle any tools with safety, and when they can handle no tool at all except a hammer. As soon as they wish to drive nails, they are allowed to drive them, and taught to drive them to some purpose. I happened not a great while ago to pass the day at the summer camp of a friend of mine who is the mother of a small boy, aged five. My friend's husband was constructing a rustic bench.
The little boy watched for a time; then, "Daddy, I want to put in nails," he said.
"All right," replied his father; "you may. Just wait a minute and I'll let you have the hammer and the nails. Your mother wants some nails in the kitchen to hang the tin things on. If she will show you where she wants them, I'll show you how to put them in."
This was done, with much gayety on the part of us all. When the small boy, tutored by his father, had driven in all the required nails, he lifted a triumphant face to his mother. "There they are!" he exclaimed. "Now let's hang the tin things on them, and see how they look!"
The boy's father did not finish the rustic bench that day. When a neighboring camper, who stopped in to call toward the end of the afternoon, expressed surprise at his apparent dilatoriness, and asked for an explanation, the father simply said, "I did mean to finish it to- day, but I had to do something for my boy instead."
One of the things we grown-ups do for children that has been rather severely criticized is the lavishing upon them of toys,—intricate and costly toys. "What, as a child, I used to pretend the toys I had, were, the toys my children have now, are!" an acquaintance of mine was saying to me recently. "For instance," she went on, "I had a box with a hole in one end of it; I used to pretend that it was a camera, and pretend to take pictures with it! I cannot imagine my children doing that! They have real cameras and take real pictures."
The camera would seem to be typical of the toys we give to the children of to-day; they can do something with it,—something real.
The dearest treasure of my childhood was a tiny gold locket, shaped, and even engraved, like a watch. Not long ago I was showing it to a little girl who lives in New York. "I used to pretend it was a watch," I said; "I used to pretend telling the time by it."
She gazed at it with interested eyes. "It is very nice," she observed politely; "but wouldn't you have liked to have a real watch? I have one; and I really tell the time by it."
"But you cannot pretend with it!" I found myself saying.
"Oh, yes, I can," the little girl exclaimed in surprise; "and I do! I hang it on the cupola of my dolls' house and pretend that it is the clock in the Metropolitan Tower!"
The alarmists warn us that what we do for the children in the direction of costly and complicated toys may, even while helping them do something for themselves, mar their priceless simplicity. Need we fear this? Is it not likely that the "real" watches which we give them that they may "really" tell time, will be used, also, for more than one of the other simple purposes of childhood?
The English woman said that we Americans did so much, so very much, for the children of our nation. There have been other foreigners who asserted that we did too much. Indubitably, we do a great deal. But, since we do it all that the children may learn to do, and, through doing, to be, can we ever possibly do too much? "It is possible to converse with any American on the American child," the English woman said. Certainly every American has something to say on that subject, because every American is trying to do something for some American child, or group of children, to do much, very much.
THE CHILD AT HOME
In one of the letters of Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, to her mother, Queen Victoria, she writes: "I try to give my children in their home what I had in my childhood's home. As well as I am able, I copy what you did."
There is something essentially British in this point of view. The English mother, whatever her rank, tries to give her children in their home what she had in her childhood's home; as well as she is able, she copies what her mother did. The conditions of her life may be entirely different from those of her mother, her children may be unlike herself in disposition; yet she still holds to tradition in regard to their upbringing; she tries to make their home a reproduction of her mother's home.
The American mother, whatever her station, does the exact opposite—she attempts to bestow upon her children what she did not possess; and she makes an effort to imitate as little as possible what her mother did. She desires her children to have that which she did not have, and for which she longed; or that which she now thinks so much better a possession than anything she did have. Her ambition is to train her children, not after her mother's way, but in accordance with "the most approved modern method." This method is apt, on analysis, to turn out to be merely the reverse side of her mother's procedure.
I have an acquaintance, the mother of a plump, jolly little tomboy of a girl; which child my acquaintance dresses in dainty embroideries and laces, delicately colored ribbons, velvet cloaks, and feathered hats. These garments are not "becoming" to the little girl, and they are a distinct hindrance to her hoydenish activities. They are not what she ought to have, and, moreover, they are not what she wants.
"I wish I had a middy blouse, and some bloomers, and an aviation cap, and a sweater, and a Peter Thompson coat!" I heard her say recently to her mother: "the other children have them."
"Children are never satisfied!" her mother exclaimed to me later, when we were alone. "I spend so much time and money seeing that she has nice clothes; and you hear what she thinks of them!"
"But, for ordinary wear, for play, wouldn't the things she wants be more comfortable?" I ventured. "You dress her so beautifully!" I added.
"Well," said my acquaintance in a gratified tone, "I am glad you think so. I had no very pretty clothes when I was a child; and I always longed for them. My mother didn't believe in finery for children; and she dressed us very plainly indeed. I want my little girl to look as I used to wish I might look!"
"But she doesn't care how she looks—" I began.
"I know," the child's mother sighed. "I can see how her little girls will be dressed!"
Can we not all see just that? And doubtless the little girls of this beruffled, befurbelowed tomboy—dressed in middy blouses, and bloomers, and aviation caps, and sweaters, and Peter Thompson coats, or their future equivalents—will wish they had garments of a totally different kind; and she will be exclaiming, "Children are never satisfied!"
If this principle on the part of mothers in America in providing for their children were confined to such superficialities as their clothing, no appreciable harm—or good—would come of it. But such is not the case; it extends to the uttermost parts of the child's home life.
Only the other day I happened to call upon a friend of mine during the hour set aside for her little girl's piano lesson. The child was tearfully and rebelliously playing a "piece." Her teacher, a musician of unusual ability, guided her stumbling fingers with conscientious patience and care. A child of the least musical talent would surely have responded in some measure to such excellent instruction. My friend's little girl did not. When the lesson was finished, she slipped from the piano stool with a sigh of intense relief.
She started to run out of doors; but her mother detained her. "You may go to your room for an hour," she said, gently but gravely, "and stay there all alone. That will help you to remember to try harder tomorrow to have a good music lesson." And the child, more tearful, more rebellious than before, crept away to her room.
"When I was her age I didn't like the work involved in taking music lessons any better than she does," my friend said. "So my mother didn't insist upon my taking them. I have regretted it all my life. I love music; I always loved it—I loved it even when I hated practising and music lessons. I wish my mother had made me keep at it, no matter how much I objected! Well, I shall do it with my daughter; she'll thank me for it some day."
I am not so sure that her daughter will. Her music-teacher agrees with me. "The child has no talent whatever," she told me. "It is a waste of time for her to take piano lessons. Her mother now—she has a real gift for it! I often wish she would take the lessons!"
American mothers are no more prone to give their children what they themselves did not have than are American fathers. The man who is most eager that his son should have a college education is not the man who has two or three academic degrees, but the man who never went to college at all. The father whose boys are allowed to be irregular in their church attendance is the father who, as a boy, was compelled to go to church, rain or shine, twice on every Sunday.
In the more intimate life of the family the same principle rules. The parents try to give to the children ideals that were not given to them; they attempt to inculcate in the children habits that were not inculcated in themselves.
I know a family in which are three small girls, between whom there is very little difference in age. These children all enjoy coming to take tea with me. For convenience, I should naturally invite them all on the same afternoon.
Both their father and mother, however, have requested me not to do this. "Do ask them one at a time on different days," they said.
"Of course I will," I assented. "But—why?" I could not forbear questioning.
"When I was a child," the mother of the three little girls explained, "I was never allowed to accept an invitation unless my younger sister was invited, too. I was fond of my sister; but I used to long to go somewhere sometime by myself! My husband had the same experience—his brother always had to be invited when he was, or he couldn't go. Our children shall not be so circumscribed!"
There is not much danger for them, certainly, in that direction. Yet I rather think they would enjoy doing more things together. One day, not a great while ago, I chanced to meet all three of them near a tearoom. I asked them—perforce all of them—to go in with me and partake of ice cream. As we sat around the table, the oldest of the three glanced at the other two with a friendly smile. "It is nice—all of us having ice cream with you at the same time," she remarked, and her younger sisters enthusiastically agreed.
To be sure, they are nearer the same age and they are more alike in their tastes than their mother and her sister, or their father and his brother. Perhaps their parents needed to take their pleasures singly; they seem able quite happily to take theirs in company.
I have another friend, who was brought up in a household in which, as she says, "individuality" was the keynote. In her own home the keynote is "the family." She encourages her children to "do things together." Furthermore, she and her husband habitually participate in their children's occupations to a greater degree than any other parents I have ever seen.
Their friends usually entertain these children "as a family"; but not long ago, happening to have only two tickets to a concert, I asked one, and just one, of the little girls of this household to attend it with me. She accepted eagerly. During an intermission she looked up at me and said, confidingly, "It is nice sometimes to do things not 'as a family,' but just as one's self!"
Then, for the first time, it occurred to me that she was the "odd one" of her family. All its pleasures, all its interests, were not equally hers. She needed sometimes to do things as herself.
In matters of discipline, too, we find the same theory at work. Parents who were severely punished as children do not punish their children at all; and the most austere of parents are those who, when children, were "spoiled." Almost regardless of the natures of their children, parents deal with them, so far as discipline is concerned, as they themselves were not dealt with.
This implies no lack of love, no lack of respect, for the older generation. On the contrary, it is the sign and symbol of a love, a respect, so great as to permit of divergences of opinion and procedure, in spite of differences of age.
"I am not going to bring up the baby in the way I was brought up, mamma, darling," I once heard a mother of a month-old baby (her first child) say to the baby's grandmother.
"Aren't you, dear?" replied the older lady, with a smile. "Why not?"
"Oh," returned the daughter, "I want her to be better than I am. I think if you'd brought me up conversely from the way you did, I'd have been a much more worth-while person."
She spoke very solemnly, but her mother only laughed, and then fondly kissed her daughter and her granddaughter. "That is what I said to my mother when you were a month old!" she said whimsically.
Children in American homes, it might be supposed, would be affected by such diversity in the theories of their parents and their grandparents concerning their rearing. They might naturally be expected to "take sides" with the one or the other; or, at any rate, to be puzzled or disturbed by the principle of "contrariwiseness" governing their lives. From their earliest years they are aware of it. The small girl very soon learns that the real reason why she finds a gold bracelet in her Christmas stocking is that mother "always wanted one, but grandma did not approve of jewelry for children." The little boy quickly discovers that his dog sleeps on the foot of his bed mainly because "father's dog was never allowed even to come into the house. Grandpa was a doctor, and thought dogs were not clean."
This knowledge, so soon acquired, would seem to be a menace to family unity; but it is not—even in homes in which the three generations are living together. The children know what their grandparents wished for their parents; they know what their parents wish for them; but, most of all and best of all, they know what they wish for themselves. It is not what their parents had, nor what their parents try to give them; it is "what other children have."
Perhaps all children are conventional; certainly American children are. They wish to have what the other children of their acquaintance have, they wish to do what those other children do. It is not because mother wanted a bracelet, and never had it, that the little girl would have a bracelet; it is because "the other girls have bracelets." Not on account of the rules that forbade father's dog the house is the small boy happy in the nightly companionship of his dog; he takes the dog to bed with him for the reason that "the other boys' dogs sleep with them."
Even unto honors, if they must carry them alone, children in America would rather not be born. A little girl who lives in my neighborhood came home from school in tears one day not long ago. Her father is a celebrated writer. The school-teacher, happening to select one of his stories to read aloud to the class, mentioned the fact that the author of the story was the father of my small friend.
"But why are you crying about it, sweetheart?" her father asked. "Do you think it's such a bad story?"
"Oh, no," the little girl answered; "it is a good enough story. But none of the other children's fathers write stories! Why do you, daddy? It's so peculiar!"
It may be that all children, whatever their nationalities, are like this little girl. We, in America, have a fuller opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the minds of children than have the people of any other nation of the earth. For more completely than any other people do American fathers and mothers make friends and companions of their children, asking from them, first, love; then, trust; and, last of all, the deference due them as "elders." Any child may feel as did my small neighbor about a "peculiar" father; only a child who had been his comrade as well as his child would so freely have voiced her feeling.
We all remember the little boy in Stevenson's poem, "My Treasures," whose dearest treasure, a chisel, was dearest because "very few children possess such a thing."
Had he been an American child, that chisel would not have been a "treasure" at all, unless all of the children possessed such a thing.
Not only do the children of our Nation want what the other children of their circle have when they can use it; they want it even when they cannot use it. I have a little girl friend who, owing to an accident in her infancy, is slightly lame. Fortunately, she is not obliged to depend upon crutches; but she cannot run about, and she walks with a pathetically halting step.
One autumn this child came to her mother and said: "Mamma, I'd like to go to dancing-school."
"But, my dearest, I'm afraid—I don't believe—you could learn to dance —very well," her mother faltered.
"Oh, mamma, I couldn't learn to dance at all!" the little girl exclaimed, as if surprised that her mother did not fully realize this fact.
"Then, dearest, why do you want to go to dancing-school?" her mother asked gently.
"The other girls in my class at school are all going," the child said.
Her mother was silent; and the little girl came closer and lifted pleading eyes to her face. "Please let me go!" she begged. "The others are all going," she repeated.
"I could not bear to refuse her," the mother wrote to me later. "I let her go. I feared that it would only make her feel her lameness the more keenly and be a source of distress to her. But it isn't; she enjoys it. She cannot even try to learn to dance; but she takes pleasure in being present and watching the others, to say nothing of wearing a 'dancing- school dress,' as they do. This morning she said to her father: 'I can't dance, Papa; but I can talk about it. I learn how at dancing-school. Oh, I love dancing-school!'"
Her particular accomplishment maybe of minute value in itself; but is not her content in it a priceless good? If she can continue to enjoy learning only to talk about the pleasures her lameness will not permit her otherwise to share, her dancing-school lessons will have taught her better things than they taught "the other children," who could dance.
That mother was her little girl's confidential friend as well as her mother. The child, quite unreservedly, told her what she wanted and why she wanted it. It was no weak indulgence of a child's whim, but a genuine respect for another person's rights as an individual—even though that individual was merely a little child—that led that mother to allow her daughter to have what she wanted. May not some subtle sense of this have been the basis of the child's happiness in the fulfillment of her desire? She wanted to go to dancing-school because the other children were going; but may she not have liked going because she felt that her mother understood and sympathized with her desire to go?
A Frenchwoman to whom I once said that American parents treat their children in many ways as though they were their contemporaries remarked, "But does that not make the children old before their time?"
So far from this, it seems, on the contrary, to keep the parents young after their time. It has been truly said that we have in America fewer and fewer grandmothers who are "sweet old ladies," and more and more who are "charming elderly women." We hear less and less about the "older" and the "younger" generations; increasingly we merge two, and even three, generations into one.
Only yesterday, calling upon a new acquaintance, I heard the four-year- old boy of the house, mentioning his father, refer to him as "Henry."
His grandmother smiled, and his mother said, casually: "When you speak of father, dear, it would be better to say, 'my father,' so people will be sure to know whom you mean. You may have noticed that grandma always says, 'my son,' and I always say 'my husband,' when we speak of him."
"Does he call his father by his Christian name?" I could not resist questioning, when the little boy had left the room.
"Sometimes," replied the child's mother.
"He hears so many persons do it, he can't see why he shouldn't. And there really is no reason. Soon enough he will find out that it isn't customary and stop doing it."
This is a far cry from the days when children were taught to address their parents as "honored sir" and "respected madam." But, it seems to me, the parents are as much honored and respected now as then; and—more important still—both they and the children are, if not dearer, yet nearer one another.
In small as well as in large matters they slip into their parents' places—neither encouraged nor discouraged, but simply accepted. Companions and friends, they behave as such, and are treated in a companionable and friendly manner.
The other afternoon I dropped in at tea-time for a glimpse of an old friend.
Her little girl came into the room in the wake of the tea-tray. "Let me pour the tea," she said, eagerly.
"Very well," her mother acquiesced. "Be careful not to fill the cups too full, so that they overflow into the saucers; and do not forget that the tea is hot" she supplemented.
The little girl had never poured the tea before, but her mother neither watched her nor gave her any further directions. The child devoted herself to her pleasant task. With entire ease and unconsciousness she filled the cups, and made the usual inquiries as to "one lump, or two?" and "cream or lemon?"
"Isn't she rather young to pour the tea?" I suggested, when we were alone.
"I don't see why," my friend said. "There isn't any 'age limit' about pouring tea. She does it for her dolls in the nursery; she might just as well do it for us here. Of course it is hot; but she can be careful."
There are few things in regard to the doing or the saying or the thinking of which American parents apprehend any "age limit." Their children are not "tender juveniles." They do not have a detached life of their own which the parents "share," nor do the parents have a detached life of their own which the children "share." There is the common life of the home, to which all, parents and children, and often grandparents too, contribute, and in which they all "share."
This is the secret of that genuine satisfaction that so many of us grown-ups in America find in the society of children, whether they are members of our own families or are the children of our friends and neighbors.
A short time ago I had occasion to invite to Sunday dinner a little boy friend of mine who is nine years old. Lest he might feel his youth in a household which no longer contains any nine-year-olds, I invited to "meet him" two other boys, playmates of his, of about the same age. There chanced also to be present a friend, a professor in a woman's college, into whose daily life very seldom strays a boy, especially one nine years old.
"What interesting things have you been doing lately?" she observed to the boy beside her in the pause which followed our settling of ourselves at the table.
"I have been seeing 'The Blue Bird,'" he at once answered. "Have you seen it?" he next asked.
No sooner had she replied than he turned to me. "I suppose, of course, you've seen it," he said.
"Not yet," I told him; "but I have read it—"
"Oh, so have I!" exclaimed one of the other boys; "and I've seen it, too. There is one act in the play that isn't in the book—'The Land of Happiness' it is. My mother says she doesn't think Mr. Maeterlinck could have written it; it is so different from the rest of the play."
Those present, old and young, who had seen "The Blue Bird" debated this possibility at some length.
Then the boy who had introduced it said to me: "I wonder, when you see it, whether you'll think Mr. Maeterlinck wrote 'The Land of Happiness' act, or not."
"I haven't seen 'The Blue Bird,'" the third boy remarked, "but I've seen the Coronation pictures." Whereupon we fell to discussing moving-picture shows.
During the progress of that dinner we considered many other subjects, lighting upon them casually; touching upon them lightly; and—most significant of all—discoursing upon them as familiars and equals. None of us who were grown-up "talked down" to the boys, and certainly none of the boys "talked up" to us. Each one of them at home was a "dear partner" of every other member of the family, younger and older, larger and smaller. Inevitably, each one when away from home became quite spontaneously an equal shareholder in whatever was to be possessed at all.
A day or two after the Sunday of that dinner I met one of my boy guests on the street. "I've seen 'The Blue Bird,'" I said to him; "and I'm inclined to think that, if Mr. Maeterlinck did write the act 'The Land of Happiness,' he wrote it long after he had written the rest of the play. I think perhaps that is why it is so different from the other acts."
"Why, I never thought of that!" the boy cried, with absolute unaffectedness. He appeared to consider it for a moment, and then he said: "I'll tell my mother; she'll be interested."
Foreign visitors of distinction not infrequently have accused American children of being "pert," or "lacking in reverence," or "sophisticated." Those of us who are better acquainted with the children of our own Nation cannot concur in any of these accusations. Unhappily, there are children in America, as there are children in every land, who are pert, and lacking in reverence, and sophisticated; but they are in the small minority, and they are not the children to whom foreigners refer when they make their sweeping arraignments.
The most gently reared, the most carefully nurtured, of our children are those usually seen by distinguished foreign visitors; for such foreigners are apt to be guests of the families to which these children belong. The spirit of frank camaraderie displayed by the children they mistake for "pertness"; the trustful freedom of their attitude toward their elders they interpret as "lack of reverence"; and their eager interest in subjects ostensibly beyond their years they misread as "sophistication."
It must be admitted that American small boys have not the quaint courtliness of French small boys; that American little girls are without the pretty shyness of English little girls. We are compelled to grant that in America between the nursery and the drawing-room there is no great gulf fixed. This condition of things has its real disadvantages and trials; but has it not also its ideal advantages and blessings? Cooeperative living together, in spite of individual differences, is one of these advantages; tender intimacy between persons of varying ages is one of these blessings.
A German woman on her first visit to America said to me, as we talked about children, that, with our National habit of treating them as what we Americans call "chums," she wondered how parents kept any authority over them, and especially maintained any government of them, and for them, without letting it lapse into a government by them.
"I should think that the commandment 'Children, obey your parents' might be in danger of being overlooked or thrust aside," she said, "in a country in which children and parents are 'chums,' as Americans say."
That ancient commandment would seem to be too toweringly large to be overlooked, too firmly embedded in the world to be thrust aside. It is a very Rock of Gibraltar of a commandment.
American parents do not relinquish their authority over their children. As for government—like other wise parents, they aim to help it to develop, as soon as it properly can, from a government of and for their children into a government by them. Self-government is the lesson of lessons they most earnestly desire to teach their children.
Methods of teaching it differ. Indeed, as to methods of teaching their children anything, American fathers and mothers have no fixed standard, no homogeneous ideal. More likely than not they follow in this important matter their custom in matters of lesser import—of employing a method directly opposed to the method of their own parents, and employing it simply because it is directly opposed. This is but too apt to be their interpretation of the phrase "modernity in child nurture." But the children learn the lesson. They learn the other great and fundamental lessons of life, too, and learn them well, from these American fathers and mothers who are so friendly and companionable and sympathetic with them.
Why should they not? There is no antagonism between love and law. Parents are in a position of authority over their children; no risk of the strength of that position is involved in a friendship between parents and children anywhere. It is not remarkable that American parents should retain their authority over their children. What is noteworthy is that their children, less than any other children of the civilized world, rebel against it or chafe under it: they perceive so soon that their parents are governing them only because they are not wise enough to govern themselves; they realize so early that government, by some person or persons, is the estate in common of us all!
One day last summer at the seashore I saw a tiny boy, starting from the bath-house of his family, laboriously drag a rather large piece of driftwood along the beach. Finally he carefully deposited it in the sand at a considerable distance from the bath-house.
"Why did you bring that big piece of wood all the way up here?" I inquired as he passed me.
"My father told me to," the child replied.
"Why?" I found myself asking.
"Because I got it here; and it is against the law of this town to take anything from this beach, except shells. Did you know that? I didn't; my father just 'splained it to me."
American fathers and mothers explain so many things to their children! And American children explain quite as great a number of things to their parents. They can; because they are not only friends, but familiar friends. We have all read Continental autobiographies, of which the chapters under the general title "Early Years" contained records of fears based upon images implanted in the mind and flourishing there— images arising from some childish misapprehension or misinterpretation of some ordinary and perfectly explainable circumstance. "I was afraid to pass a closed closet alone after dark," one of these says. "I had heard of 'skeletons in closets'; I knew there were none in our closets in the daytime, but I couldn't be sure that they did not come to sleep in them at night; and I was too shy to inquire of my parents. What terrors I suffered! I was half-grown before I understood what a 'skeleton in a closet' was."
An American child would have discovered what one was within five minutes after hearing it first mentioned, provided he had the slightest interest in knowing. No American child is too shy to inquire of his parents concerning anything he may wish to know. Shyness is a veil children wear before strangers; in the company of their intimates they lay it aside— and forget it. In the autobiographies of Americans we shall not find many accounts of childish terrors arising from any reserve in the direction of asking questions. In American homes there are no closets whose doors children are afraid to pass, or to open, even after dark.
"American children are all so different!" an Englishman complained to me not long ago; "as different as their several homes. One can make no statement about them that is conclusive."
But can one not? To be sure, they do vary, and their homes vary too; but in one great, significant, fundamental particular they are all alike. In American homes the parents not only love their children, and the children their parents; their "way of loving" is such that one may say of them, "Their souls do bear an equal yoke of love." They and their parents are "chums."
THE CHILD AT PLAY
Not long ago I happened to receive in the same mail three books on home games, written by three different American authors, and issued by three separate publishing-houses. In most respects the books were dissimilar; but in one interesting particular they were all alike: the games in them were so designed that, though children alone could play them well, children and grown-ups together could play them better. No one of the several authors suggested that he had any such theory in mind when preparing his book; each one simply took it for granted that his "home games" would be played by the entire household. Would not any of us in America, writing a book of this description, proceed from precisely the same starting-point?
We all recollect the extreme amazement in the Castle of Dorincourt occasioned by the sight of the Earl playing a "home game" with Little Lord Fauntleroy. No American grandfather thus engaged would cause the least ripple of surprise. Little Lord Fauntleroy, we recall, had been born in America, and had lived the whole ten years of his life with Americans. He had acquired the habit, so characteristic of the children of our Nation, of including his elders in his games. Quite naturally, on his first day at the Castle, he said to the Earl, "My new game—wouldn't you like to play it with me, grandfather?" The Earl, we remember, was astonished. He had never been in America!
American grown-ups experience no astonishment when children invite them to participate in their play. We are accustomed to such invitations. To our ready acceptance of them the children are no less used. "Will you play with us?" they ask with engaging confidence. "Of course we will!" we find ourselves cordially responding.
I chanced, not a great while ago, to be ill in a hospital on Christmas Day. Toward the middle of the morning, during the "hours for visitors," I heard a faint knock at my door.
Before I could answer it the door opened, and a little girl, her arms full of toys, softly entered.
"Did you say 'Come in'?" she inquired.
Without waiting for a reply, she carefully deposited her toys on the nurse's cot near her. Then, closing the door, she came and stood beside my bed, and gazed at me in friendly silence.
"Merry Christmas!" I said.
"Oh, Merry Christmas!" she returned, formally, dropping a courtesy.
She was a sturdy, rosy-cheeked child, and, though wearing a fluffy white dress and slippers, she looked as children only look after a walk in a frosty wind. Clearly, she was not a patient.
"Whose little girl are you?" I asked.
"Papa's and mamma's," she said promptly.
"Where are they?" I next interrogated.
"In papa's room—down the hall, around the corner. Papa is sick; only, he's better now, and will be all well soon. And mamma and I came to see him, with what Santa Claus brought us."
"I see," I commented. "And these are the things Santa Claus brought you?" I added, indicating the toys on the cot. "You have come, now, to show them to me?"
Her face fell a bit. "I came to play at them with you," she said. "Your nurse thought maybe you'd like to, for a while. Are you too sick to play?" she continued, anxiously; "or too tired, or too busy?"
How seldom are any of us too sick to play; or too tired, or too busy! "I am not," I assured my small caller. "I should enjoy playing. What shall we begin with?" I supplemented, glancing again toward the toy-bestrewn cot.
"Oh, there are ever so many things!" the little girl said. "But," she went on hesitatingly, "your things—perhaps you'd like—might I look at them first?"
Most evident among these things of mine was a small tree, bedizened, after the German fashion, with gilded nuts, fantastically shaped candies, and numerous tiny boxes, gayly tied with tinsel ribbons. "What's in the boxes—presents or jokes?" the little girl questioned. "Have you looked?"
"I hadn't got that far, when you came," I told her; "but I rather think—jokes."
"I'd want to know" she suggested.
When I bade her examine them for me, she said: "Let's play I am Santa Claus and you are a little girl. I'll hand you the boxes, and you open them."
We did this, with much mutual enjoyment. The boxes, to my amusement and her delight, contained miniature pewter dogs and cats and dolls and dishes. "Why," my little companion exclaimed, "they aren't jokes; they are real presents! They will be just right to have when little children come to see you!"
When the last of the boxes had been opened and my other less juvenile "things" surveyed, the child turned to her own treasures. "There are the two puzzles," she said, "and there is the big doll that can say 'Papa' and 'Mamma,' and there is the paper doll, with lovely patterns and pieces to make more clothes out of for it, and there is a game papa just loved. Perhaps you'd like to play that best, too, 'cause you are sick, too?" she said tentatively.
I assented, and the little girl arranged the game on the table beside my bed, and explained its "rules" to me. We played at it most happily until my nurse, coming in, told my new-made friend that she must "say 'Good- bye' now."
My visitor at once collected her toys and prepared to go. At the door she turned. "Good-bye," she said, again dropping her prim courtesy. "I have had a very pleasant time."
"So have I!" I exclaimed.
And I had had. "She was so entertaining," I said to my nurse, "and her game was so interesting!"
"It is not an uncommon game," my nurse remarked, with a smile; "and she is just an ordinary, nice child!"
America is full of ordinary, nice children who beguile their elders into playing with them games that are not uncommon. How much "pleasant time" is thereby spent!
"Where do American children learn to expect grown people to play with them?" an Englishwoman once asked me. "In the kindergarten?"
Undoubtedly they do. In no country except Germany is the kindergarten so integral a part of the national life as it is in America. In our cities, rich and poor alike send their children to kindergartens. Not only in the public and the private schools, but also in the social settlements, and even in the Sunday-schools, we have kindergarten departments. In the rural schools the teachers train the little "beginners" in accordance with kindergarten principles. Even to places far away from any schools at all the kindergarten penetrates. Only yesterday I saw a book, written by a kindergartner, dedicated to "mothers on the rolling prairie, the far-off rancho, the rocky island, in the lonely light-house, the frontier settlement, the high-perched mining-camp," who, distant indeed from school kindergartens and their equipment, might wish help in making out of what materials they have well-equipped home kindergartens.
"Come, let us play with the children," the apostles of Froebel teach us. And, "Come, let us ask the grown-ups to play with us," they would seem unconsciously to instruct the children.
One autumn a friend of mine, the mother of a three-year-old boy and of a daughter aged sixteen, said to me: "This is my daughter's first term in the high school; she will need my help. My boy is just at the age when it takes all the spare time I have to keep him out of mischief; how shall I manage?"
"Send the boy to kindergarten," I advised. "He is ready to go; and it will be good for him. He will bring some of the 'occupations' home with him; and they will keep him out of mischief for you."
She sent the boy to a little kindergarten in the neighborhood.
About two months later, I said to her, "I suppose the kindergarten has solved the problem of more spare time for your daughter's new demands upon you?"
"Well—in a way," she replied, dubiously. "It gives me the morning free; but—"
"Doesn't the boy bring home any 'occupations'?" I interposed.
My friend laughed. "Yes," she said; "he certainly does! But he doesn't want to 'occupy' himself alone with them; he wants all of us to do it with him! We have become quite expert at 'weaving,' and 'folding,' and 'sewing'! But, on the other hand," she went on, "he isn't so much trouble as he was. He wants us to play with him more, but he plays more intelligently. We take real pleasure in joining in his games, and— actually—in letting him share ours."
This little boy, now five years old, came to see me the other day.
"What would you like to do?" I asked, when we had partaken of tea. "Shall we put the jig-saw puzzle together; or should you prefer to have me tell you a story?"
"Tell me a story," he said at once; "and then I'll tell you one. And then you tell another—and then I'll tell another—" He broke off, to draw a long breath. "It's a game," he continued, after a moment. "We play it in kindergarten."
"Do you enjoy telling stories more than hearing them told?" I inquired, when we had played this game to the extent of three stories on either side.
"No," my little boy friend replied. "I like hearing stories told more than anything. But that isn't a game; that's just being-told-stories. The game is taking-turns-telling-stories." He enunciated each phrase as though it were a single word.
His mother had spoken truly when she said that her little boy had learned to play intelligently. He had learned, also, to include his elders in his games on equal terms. Small wonder that they took real pleasure in playing with him.
The children cordially welcome us to their games. They ask us to be children with them. As heartily, they would have us bespeak their company in our games; they are willing to try to be grown-up with us.
I was visiting a family recently, in which there is but one small child, a boy of eight. One evening we were acting charades. Divided into camps, we chose words in turn, and in turn were chosen to superintend the "acting-out" of the particular word. It happened that the word "Psychical-research," and the turn of the eight-year-old boy to be stage-manager coincided. Every one in his camp laughed, but no one so much as remotely suggested that the word or the stage-manager be changed.
"What does it mean, 'Psychical-research'?" the boy made question.
We laughed still more, but we genuinely tried to make the term comprehensible to the child's mind.
This led to such prolonged and lively argument that the little stage- manager finally observed: "I don't see how it can mean all that all of you say. Can't we let the whole-word act of it go, and act out the rest? We can, you know—'Sigh,' 'kick,' 'all'; and 're' (like in music, you know), and 'search!'"
"Oh, no," we demurred; "we must do it properly, or not at all!"
"Well, then," said the boy, in a quaintly resigned tone of voice, "talk to me about it, until I know what it is!"
In spite of hints from the other camp not to overlap the time allotted us, in the face of messages from them to hurry, regardless of their protests against our dilatoriness, we did talk to that little eight- year-old boy about "Psychical-research" until he understood its meaning sufficiently to plan his final act. "If he is playing with us, then he is playing with us," his father somewhat cryptically remarked; "and he must know the details of the game."
This playing with grown-ups does not curtail the play in which children engage with their contemporaries. There are games that are distinctly "children's games." We all know of what stuff they are made, for most of us have played them in our time—running-games, jumping-games, shouting- games. By stepping to our windows nearly any afternoon, we may see some of them in process. But we shall not be invited to participate. At best, the children will pause for a moment to ask, "Did you play it this way?"
Very likely we did not. Each generation plays the old games; every generation plays them in a slightly new way. The present generation would seem to play them with a certain self-consciousness; without that abandon of an earlier time.
A short while ago I happened to call upon a friend of mine on an afternoon when, her nursemaid being "out," she was alone with her children—a boy of seven and a girl of five. I found them together in the nursery; my friend was sewing, and the children were playing checkers. Apparently, they were entirely engrossed in their game. Immediately after greeting me they returned to it, and continued it with seeming obliviousness of the presence of any one excepting themselves. But when their mother, in the course of a few moments, rose, and said to me: "Let's go down to the library and have tea," both the children instantly stopped playing—though one of them was in the very thick of "taking a king"—and cried, "Oh, don't go; stay with us!"
"My dears," my friend said, "you don't need us; you have your game. Aren't you happy with it?"
"Why, yes," the little girl admitted; "but we want you to see us being happy!"
Only to-day, as I came up my street, a crowd of small children burst upon me from behind a hedge; and, shouting and gesticulating, surrounded me. Their faces were streaked with red, and blue, and yellow lines, applied with crayons; feathers of various domestic kinds ornamented their hats and caps, and they waved in the air broken laths, presumably gifts from a builder at work in the vicinity.
"We are Indians!" they shrieked; "wild Indians! See our war-paint, and feathers, and tomahawks! We hunt the pale face!"
While I sought about for an appropriate answer to make, my little neighbors suddenly became calm.
"Don't we children have fun?" one of them questioned me. "You like to see us having fun, don't you?"
I agreed, and again their war-whoops began. They followed me to my door in a body. Inside I still heard them playing, but with lessened din. Several times during the afternoon, hearing their noise increase, I looked out; each time I saw that the arrival of another grown-up pale face was the occasion of the climactic moment in the game. In order to be wild Indians with perfect happiness the small players demanded an appreciative audience to see them being happy.
Some of us in America are prone to deprecate in the children of our Nation this pleased consciousness of their own enjoyment, this desire for our presence as sympathetic onlookers at those of their games in which we cannot join. We must not allow ourselves to forget that it is a state of mind fostered largely by our National habit of treating children as familiars and equals. Our satisfaction in their pleasures we mention in their hearing. If they are aware that we like to see them "being happy," it is because we have told them, and told them repeatedly. We do not, as in a former time, "spell some of our words" in their company, in order that they may not know all we say. On the contrary, we pronounce all our words with especial clearness, and even define such as are obscure, that the children not only may, but must, fully understand us when we speak "before them." Unquestionably this takes from the play of the children self-forgetfulness of one kind, but sometimes it gives to them self-forgetfulness of another, a rarer kind.
I know a family of children, lovers of games which involve running races. Several years ago one of the boys of this family died. Since his death the other children run no more races.
"We like running races just as much," one of the girls explained to me one evening, as we sat by the fire and talked about her dead brother; "but, you know, he always liked them best, because he generally won. He loved to have mother see him winning. He was always getting her to come and watch him do it. And mother liked it, and used to tell other people about it. We don't run races now, because it might remind mother too much."
No matter how joyously American children may play with their elders, or with their contemporaries, whatever enhancement their satisfaction in play with one another may gain from the presence of grown-up spectators, they are not likely to become so dependent upon the one, nor so self- conscious by reason of the other, that they will relinquish—or, worse still, never know—the dear delights of "playing alone." Games played in company may be the finest prose—they are yet prose; games played alone are pure poetry. The children of our Nation are not without that imagination which, on one day or another, impels a child to wander, "lonely as a cloud," along the path of dreamful, solitary play.
How often a child who, to our eyes, appears to be doing nothing whatever, is "playing alone" a delectable game! Probably, only once in a hundred times, and then, by the merest accident, do we discover what that game is.
Among my child friends there is a little boy who takes great pleasure in seeing dramas acted. One spring day I took him to an open-air presentation of "As You Like It."
The comedy was charmingly given in a clearing in a beautiful private park. Orlando had "real" trees and hawthorns and brambles upon which to hang his verses; and he made lavish use of them.
The fancy of my small friend was quite captivated by what he called "playing hide-and-go-seek with poems." "What fun he has, watching her find them and not letting her know he hid them!" he exclaimed.
Later in the season I went to spend a few days at the country home of his parents. Early one morning, from my window, I espied the little boy, stealthily moving about under the trees in the adjacent apple orchard.
At breakfast he remarked to me, casually, "It's nice in the orchard—all apple blossoms."
"Will you go out there with me?" I asked.
"P'aps not to-day," he made reply. "But," he hazarded, "you could go by yourself. It's nice," he repeated; "all apple blossoms. Get close to the trees, and smell them."
It was a pleasant plan for a May morning.
I lost no time in putting it into practice. Involuntarily I sought that corner of the orchard in which I had seen my small friend. Mindful of his counsel, I got close to the apple blossoms and smelled them. As I did so I noticed a crumpled sheet of paper in a crotch of one of the trees. I no sooner saw it than I seized it, and, smoothing it out, read, written in a primary-school hand:—
"The rose is red, The violet blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you."
Need I say that I had scarcely read this before I entered upon an exhaustive search among the other trees? My amused efforts were well rewarded. Between two flower-laden branches I descried another "poem," in identical handwriting:—
"A birdie with a yellow bill Hopped upon the window-sill, Cocked his shining eye and said 'Ain't you 'shamed, you sleepy-head!'"
In a tiny hollow I found still another, by the same hand:—
"'T was brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe."
As I went back to the house, bearing my findings, I met my little boy friend. He tried not to see what I carried.
"I gathered these from the apple trees," I said, holding out the verses. "They are poems."
He made no motion to take the "poems." His eyes danced. But neither then did he say nor since has he said that the verses were his; that he was the Orlando who had caused them to grow upon the trees.
Another child of my acquaintance, a little girl, I discovered in an even sweeter game for "playing alone." She chanced to call upon me one afternoon just as I was taking from its wrappings an edition de luxe of "Pippa Passes." Her joy in the exquisite illustrations with which the book was embellished even exceeded mine.
"Is the story in the book as lovely as the pictures?" she queried.
"Yes," I assured her.
Then, at her urgent request, I told her the tale of the "little black- eyed pretty singing Felippa"; of her "single day," and of her singing that "righted all again" on that holiday in Asolo.
The child was silent for a moment after I had finished the story. "Do you like it?" I inquired.
"Um—yes," she mused. "Let me look at the pictures some more," she asked, with sudden eagerness.
I handed her the book, and she pored over it for a long time. "The houses then were not like the houses now—were they?" she said; "and the people dressed in funny clothes."
The next Saturday, at an early hour, I heard beneath my window a childish voice singing a kindergarten song. I peeped out. There stood my little friend. I was careful to make no sound and to keep well in the shadow. The small girl finished her song, and softly ran away.
"Your little girl serenaded me the other morning," I said to her mother when I saw her a few days afterward. The child had shown so slight an interest in anything in my book except the pictures that I did not yet connect her singing with it.
"You, too!" exclaimed the little girl's mother. "She evidently serenaded the entire neighborhood! All day Saturday, her only holiday, she went around, singing under various windows! I wonder what put the idea into her head."
"Did you ask her?" I questioned, with much curiosity.
"Yes," answered the child's mother; "but she only smiled, and looked embarrassed, so I said nothing further. She seemed to want to keep her secret, the dear baby! So I thought I'd let her!"
And I—I, too, kept it. "Yes, do let her," was all I said.
American children, when "playing alone," impersonate the heroes and heroines of the dramas they see, or the stories they are told, or the books they read (how much more often they must do it than we suspect our memories of our own childish days will teach us), but when they play together, even when they "play at books that they have read," they seldom "pretend." A group of small boys who have just read "Robin Hood" do not say: "Wouldn't it be fun to play that we are Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and that our grove is Sherwood Forest?" They are more apt to say: "It would be good sport for us—shooting with bows and arrows. We might get some, and fix up a target somewhere and practise." The circle of little girls who have read "Mary's Meadow" do not propose that they play at being Mary. They decide instead upon doing, in their own proper persons, what Mary did in hers. They can play together, the children of our Nation, but they seem unable to "pretend" together. They are perhaps too self-conscious.
It is a significant circumstance that yearly there are published in America a large number of books for children telling them "how to make" various things. A great part of their play consists in making something —from a sunken garden to an air-ship.
I recently had a letter from a boy in which he said: "The boys here are getting wireless sets. We have to buy part of the things; but we make as many of them as we can."
And how assiduously they attempt to make as many as they can of the other things we grown-ups make! They imitate our play; and, in a spirit of play, they contrive to copy to its last and least detail our work. If we play golf or tennis, they also play these games. Are we painters of pictures or writers of books, they too aspire to paint or to write!
It cannot be denied that we encourage the children in this "endless imitation." We not only have diminutive golf sticks and tennis rackets manufactured for their use as soon as they would play our games; when they show signs of toying with our work, we promptly set about providing them with the proper means to that end.
One of our best-known magazines for children devotes every month a considerable number of its pages to stories and poems and drawings contributed by children. Furthermore, it offers even such rewards as we grown-up writers and painters are offered for "available" products. Moreover, the young contributors are instructed in the intricacies of literary and artistic etiquette. They are taught how to prepare manuscripts and drawings for the editorial eye. The "rules" given these children are identical with the regulations governing well-conducted grown-up writers and artists—excepting that the children are commanded to "state age," and "have the contribution submitted indorsed as wholly original!"
It is a noteworthy fact that hundreds of children in America send in contributions, month after month, year after year, to this magazine. Even more significant is it that they prepare these contributions with all the conscientious care of grown-up writers or painters to whom writing or painting is the chiefest reality of life. So whole-heartedly do the children play at being what their elders are!
An Italian woman once asked me, "The American children—what do they employ as toys?"
I could only reply, "Almost anything; almost everything!"
When we are furthest from seeing the toy possibilities of a thing, they see it. I have among my treasures a libation cup and a ushabti figurine—votive offerings from the Temple of Osiris, at Abydos.
A short time ago a little boy friend of mine lighted upon them in their safe retreat. "What are these?" he inquired.
"They came from Egypt—" I began.
"Oh, really and truly?" he cried. "Did they come from the Egypt in the poem—
"'Where among the desert sands Some deserted city stands, There I'll come when I'm a man With a camel caravan; And in a corner find the toys Of the old Egyptian boys'?"
He spent a happy hour playing with the libation cup and the ushabti— trophies of one of the most remarkable explorations of our era. I did not tell him what they were. He knew concerning them all he needed to know—that they could be "employed as toys." Perhaps the very tiniest of the "old Egyptian boys" had known only this, too.
"Little girls do not play with dolls in these days!" is a remark that has been made with great frequency of late years. Those of us who have many friends among little girls often wonder what is at the basis of this rumor. There have always been girls who did not care for dolls. In the old-fashioned story for girls there was invariably one such. In "Little Women," as we all recall, it was Jo. No doubt the persons who say that little girls no longer play with dolls count among their childish acquaintances a disproportionate number of Jos. Playing with dolls would seem to be too fundamentally little-girlish ever to fall into desuetude.
"Girls, as well as boys, play with dogs in these days!" is another plaintive cry we often hear. But were there ever days when this was not the case? From that far-off day when Iseult "had always a little brachet with her that Tristram gave her the first time that ever she came into Cornwell," to the time when Dora cuddled Jip, even down to our own day, when the heroine of "Queed" walks forth with her Behemoth, girls both in fact and in fiction have played with dogs; played with them no less than boys. This proclivity on the part of the little girls of our Nation is not distinctively American, nor especially childish, nor particularly girl-like; it is merely human.
In few activities do the children of our Nation reveal what we call the "American sense of humor" so clearly as in their play. Slight ills, and even serious misfortunes, they instinctively endeavor to lift and carry with a laugh. It would be difficult to surpass the gay heroism to which they sometimes attain.
Most of us remember the little hunchbacked boy in "Little Men" who, when the children played "menagerie," chose the part of the dromedary. "Because," he explained, "I have a hump on my back!"
Among my acquaintances there is a little girl who is blind. One day I invited her to go picnicking with a party of normal children, one of whom was her elder sister. She was accustomed to the company of children who could see, and she showed a ready disposition to join in the games of the other picnickers. Her sister stayed close beside her and guarded and guided her.
"Let's play blind man's buff," one of the children heedlessly suggested after a long course of "drop-the-handkerchief."
The other children with seeing eyes instantly looked at the child who was sightless, and whispered, "Ssh! You'll hurt her feelings!"
But the little blind girl scrambled eagerly to her feet. "Yes," she said, brightly; "let's play blind man's buff! I can be 'It' all the time!"
There is a phrase that has been very widely adopted by Americans. Scarcely one of us but uses it—"playing the game." Our highest commendation of a man or a woman has come to be, "He plays the game," or "She plays the game." Another phrase, often upon our lips, is "according to the rules of the game." We Americans talk of the most sacred things of life in the vocabulary of children at play. May not this be because the children of our Nation play so well; so much better than we grown- ups do anything?
THE COUNTRY CHILD
One spring, not long ago, a friend of mine, knowing that I had a desire to spend the summer in the "real country," said to me, "Why don't you go to a farm somewhere in New England? Nothing could be more 'really countrified' than that! You would get what you want there."
Her advice rather appealed to my fancy. I at once set about looking for a New England farmhouse in which I might be received as a "summer boarder." Hearing of one that was situated in a particularly healthful and beautiful section of New England, I wrote to the woman who owned and operated it, telling her what I required, and asking her whether or no she could provide me with it. "Above all things," I concluded my letter, "I want quiet."
Her somewhat lengthy reply ended with these words: "The bedroom just over the music-room is the quietest in the house, because no one is in the music-room excepting for a social hour after supper. I can let you have that bedroom."
My friend had said that nothing was so "really countrified" as a New England farm. But a "music-room," a "social hour after supper!" The terms suggested things distinctly urban.
I sent another letter to the woman to whom this amazing farmhouse belonged. "I am afraid I cannot come," I wrote. "I want a simpler place." Then, yielding to my intense curiosity, I added: "Are many of your boarders musical? Is the music-room for their use?"
"No place could be simpler than this," she answered, by return mail. "I don't know whether any of my boarders this year will be musical or not. Some years they have been. The music-room isn't for my boarders, especially; it is for my niece. She is very musical, but she doesn't get much time for practising in the summer."
She went on to say that she hoped I would decide to take the bedroom over the music-room. I did. I had told her that, above all things, I desired quiet; but, after reading her letters, I think I wished, above all things, to see the music-room, and the niece who was musical.
"She will probably be a shy, awkward girl," one of my city neighbors said to me; "and no doubt she will play 'The Maiden's Prayer' on a melodeon which will occupy one corner of the back sitting-room. You will see."
In order to reach the farm it was necessary not only to take a journey on a train, but also to drive three miles over a hilly road. The little station at which I changed from the train to an open two-seated carriage in waiting for me was the usual rural village, with its one main street, its commingled post-office and dry-goods and grocery store, and its small white meeting-house.
The farm, as we approached it, called to mind the pictures of old New England farms with which all of us are familiar. The house itself was over a hundred years old, I afterward learned; and had for that length of time "been in the family" of the woman with whom I had corresponded.
She was on the broad doorstone smiling a welcome when, after an hour's drive, the carriage at last came to a stop. Beside her was her niece, the girl whom I had been so impatient to meet. She was neither shy nor awkward.
"Are you tired?" she inquired. "What should you like to do? Go to your room or rest downstairs until supper-time? Supper will be ready in about twenty minutes."
"I'd like to see the music-room," I found myself saying.
"Oh," exclaimed the girl, her face brightening, "are you musical? How nice!"
As she spoke she led the way into the music-room. It was indeed a back sitting-room. Its windows opened upon the barnyard; glancing out, I saw eight or ten cows, just home from pasture, pushing their ways to the drinking-trough. I looked around the little room. On the walls were framed photographs of great composers, on the mantelshelf was a metronome, on the centre-table were two collections of classic piano pieces, and in a corner was,—not a melodeon,—but a piano. The maker's name was on it—a name famous in two continents.
"Your aunt told me you were musical," I said to the girl. "I see that the piano is your instrument."
"Yes," she assented. "But I don't play very well. I haven't had many lessons. Only one year with a really good teacher."
"Who was your teacher?" I asked idly. I fully expected her to say, "Some one in the village through which you came."
"Perhaps you know my teacher," she replied; and she mentioned the name of one of the best pianists and piano teachers in New England.
"Most of the time I've studied by myself," she went on; "but one year auntie had me go to town and have good lessons."
At supper this girl waited on the table, and after supper she washed the dishes and made various preparations for the next morning's breakfast. Then she joined her aunt and the boarders, of whom there were nine, on the veranda.
"I should so like to hear you play something on the piano," I said to her.
She at once arose, and, followed by me, went into the music-room, which was just off the veranda. "I only play easy things," she said, as she seated herself at the piano.
Whereupon she played, with considerable skill, one of Schumann's simpler compositions, one of Schubert's, and one of Grieg's. Then, turning around on the piano-stool, she asked me, "Do you like Debussy?"
I thought of what my neighbor had prophesied concerning "The Maiden's Prayer." Debussy! And this girl was a country girl, born and bred on that dairy farm, educated at the little district school of the vicinity; and, moreover, trained to take a responsible part in the work of the farm both in winter and in summer. Her family for generations had been "country people."
It was not surprising that she had made the acquaintance of Debussy's music; nor that she had at her tongue's end all the arguments for and against it. Her music-teacher was, of course, accountable for this. What was remarkable was that she had had the benefit of that particular teacher's instruction; that, country child though she was, she had been given exactly the kind, if not the amount, of musical education that a city child of musical tastes would have been given.
My neighbor had predicted a shy, awkward girl, a melodeon, and "The Maiden's Prayer." One of our favorite fallacies in America is that our country people are "countrified." Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in that most important matter, the up-bringing of their children. Country parents, like city parents, try to get the best for their children. That "best" is very apt to be identical with what city parents consider best. Circumstances may forbid their giving it to their children as lavishly as do city parents; conditions may force them to alter it in various ways in order to fit it to the needs of boys and girls who live on a farm, and not on a city street; but in some sort they attempt to obtain it, and, having obtained it, to give it to their children.
They are as ambitious for the education of their children as city parents; and to an amazing extent they provide for them a similar academic training. An astonishing proportion of the students in our colleges come from country homes, in which they have learned to desire collegiate experience; from country schools, where they have received the preparation necessary to pass the required college entrance examinations. Surrounded, as we in cities are, by schools especially planned, especially equipped, to make children ready for college, we may well wonder how country children in rural district schools, with their casual schedules and meagre facilities, are ever so prepared. By visiting even a few district schools we may in part discover.
I happened, not a great while ago, to spend an autumn month on a farm in a very sparsely settled section of New Hampshire.
One morning at breakfast, shortly after Labor Day, my landlady said: "School opens next week. The teacher is coming here to board for the winter. I expect her to-day."
"Where does she come from?" I asked.
"From Smith College," the farmer replied, unexpectedly. "This is her second year of teaching our school."
The school-teacher arrived late in the afternoon. My landlady was "expecting" her; so was I, no less eagerly.
"Why were you interested in me?" she inquired, when, on further acquaintance, I confessed this to her.
"Because, with a training that fits you for work in a carefully graded school or a college, you chose to teach here. Why did you?"
"For three reasons," she answered. "Country life is better for my health than city life; the people around here are thoroughly awake to the importance of education; and the children—they are such dears! You must see them when school opens."
I did see them then. Also, I saw them before that time. When the news of their teacher's arrival reached them, they came "by two, and threes, and fuller companies" to welcome her. They ranged in age from a boy and a girl of fifteen to two little girls of six. Each and every one was rapturously glad to see the teacher; they all brought her small gifts, and all of them bore messages from their homes, comprising a score of invitations to supper, the loan of a tent for the remainder of the mild weather, and the offer of a "lift" to and from school on stormy days.
The teacher accepted these tributes as a matter of course. She was genuinely glad to see her old pupils. In her turn, she sent messages to their several homes, and gave into the children's hands tokens she had purposely gathered together for them. "We'll meet on Monday at the school-house," she finally said; and the children, instantly responding to the implied suggestion, bade her good-bye, and went running down the dusty road. Each one of them lived at least a mile away; many of them more than two miles.
On Monday I accompanied the teacher to school. The school-house was a small, one-roomed, wooden building. It contained little besides a few rows of desks and benches for the children, two or three maps, and blackboards, a tiny closet filled with worn books, the teacher's desk, and a coal stove. But it had windows on three sides, and was set down in the midst of a grassy meadow bordered with a stone wall.
There were fourteen pupils. They were all assembled in the school-yard when we arrived. The boys were playing baseball, and the girls, perched on the stone wall, were watching them. The moment they saw the teacher boys and girls alike came to escort her to her place in the school- house. When she was in it, they took their own places—those they had occupied during the former term. There was one "new" pupil, a small boy. He had been so frequently a "visiting scholar" the previous year that his newness was not very patent. There was a desk that he also claimed as his.
"We will sing 'America,'" were the words with which the teacher commenced the new school year, "and then we will go on with our work, beginning where we left off in the spring."
We hear a great deal at the present time concerning the education of the "particular child." In the very best of our private schools in the city each pupil is regarded as a separate and distinct individual, and taught as such. This ideal condition of things prevailed in that little district school in the farming region of New Hampshire. That teacher had fourteen pupils; practically, she had fourteen "grades." Even when it happened that two children were taught the same lesson, each one was taught it individually.
"They are all so different!" the teacher said, when I commented upon the difference of her methods with the various children. "That boy, who hopes to go to college and then teach, needs to get one thing from his history lesson; and that girl, who intends to be a post-office clerk as soon as she finishes school, needs to get something else."
She did not aim to prepare her pupils for college. The district school was only a "grammar school." There was a high school in the nearest village, which was three miles away; she made her pupils ready for entrance into that. In order to attend the high school, more than one child in that neighborhood, year after year, in sunshine and storm, walked two and three miles twice daily. Many a child who lived still farther away was provided by an interested father with a horse and a conveyance with which to make the two journeys a day. No wonder the teacher of that district school felt that the people in the neighborhood were "thoroughly awake to the importance of education"!
As for the children—she had said that they were "such dears!" They were. I remember, in particular, two; a brother and sister. She was eight years old, and he was nine. They were inseparable companions. On bright days they ran to school hand in hand. When it rained, they trudged along the muddy road under one umbrella.
The school-teacher had taught the little girl George Eliot's poem "Brother and Sister." She could repeat it word for word, excepting the line, "I held him wise." She always said that, "I hold him tight." This "piece" the small girl "spoke" on a Friday afternoon. The most winning part of her altogether lovely recitation was the smile with which she glanced at her brother as she announced its title. He returned her smile; when she finished her performance, he led the applause.
Before the end of my visit I became very intimate with that brother and sister. I chanced to be investigating the subject of "juvenile books."
"What books have you?" I inquired of the little girl.
"Ever so many of all kinds," she replied. "Come to our house and look at them," she added cordially.
Their house proved to be the near-by farm. One of the best in that section, it was heated with steam and furnished with running water and plumbing. It had also a local and long-distance telephone. The brother and sister were but two of a family of seven children. Their father, who was a member of the school committee, and their mother, who was a graduate of a city high school, were keenly interested in, and, moreover, very well informed on, the subject of pedagogy. They had read a great number of books relating to it, and were in the habit of following in the newspapers the procedures of the National Education Association's Conventions.
"Your children have a large number of exceedingly good books!" I exclaimed, as I looked at the many volumes on a day appointed for that purpose by the mother of the family. "I wish all children had as fine a collection!"
"Country children must have books," she replied, "if they are going to be educated at all. City children can see things, and learn about them that way. Country children have to read about them if they are to know about them."
The books were of many types—poetry, fiction, historical stories, nature study, and several volumes of the "how to make" variety. All of these were of the best of their several kinds—identical with the books found in the "Children's Room" in any well-selected public library. Some of them had been gifts to the children from "summer boarders," but the majority had been chosen and purchased by their parents.
"We hunt up the names of good books for children in the book review departments of the magazines," the mother said.
When I asked what magazines, she mentioned three. Two she and her husband "took"; the other she borrowed monthly from a neighbor, on an "exchange" basis.
No other children in that region were so abundantly supplied with books; but all whom I met liked to read. Their parents, in most cases unable to give them numerous books, had, in almost every instance, taught them to love reading.
One boy with whom I became friends had a birthday while I was in the neighborhood. I had heard him express a longing to read "The Lays of Ancient Rome," which neither he nor any other child in the vicinity possessed, so I presented him with a copy of it.
"Would you mind if I gave it to the library?" he asked. "Then the other children around could read it, too."
"The library!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, I don't mean the one down in the village," he hastened to explain. "I mean the one here, near us. Haven't you been to it?"
When he found that I had not, he offered to go with me to see it. It turned out to be a "lean-to" in a farmhouse that was in a rather central position with relation to the surrounding farms. The library consisted of about two hundred volumes. The librarian was an elderly woman who lived in the house. One was allowed, she told me, to take out as many books as one wished, and to keep them until one had finished reading them.
"Do you want to take out any?" she inquired.
After examining the four or five shelves that comprised the library, I wanted to take out at least fifty. The books, especially the "juvenile books," were those of a former generation. Foremost among them were the "Rollo Books," "Sandford and Merton," Mary Howitt's "Story-Book," and "The Parents' Assistant."