Kids and Geezers

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

I took my two grand daughters (ages 3 and 6) to visit my ailing sister-in-law at a convalescent hospital last week. Neither of the girls had seen my sister-in-law in a long time, nor had they ever been to a convalescent hospital, so I was nervous about how they would react. I needn't have worried.

Abby, the six year old has lately shown some shyness in the presence of adults she does not know very well. Not this day. She and my sister-in-law Phyllis hit it off like old friends. Abby prattled on about Christmas and her kindergarten friends and puppy dogs. She found an attentive listener in Phyllis. Three year-old Kate was similarly at ease and (when she could get a word in) joined in the conversation. As for my sister-in-law, she was more engaged than I had seen her in weeks. She was really listening to them. The presence of the two little munchkins transformed her drab hospital room into a warm and cheerful place.

To me the experience was a reminder of the magic that exists between the very young and the very old. The so-called generation gap that yawns between parents and their kids does not seem to exist between kids and geezers. They get along because they have so much in common.

Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers, used to talk about the many characteristics old folks and the younger generation shared.

Neither the very old nor the very young work for a living so they have time to do stuff that harried parents can't seem to fit into a 24-hour day. Older people have the time to blow bubbles or play hide and seek or read a book with their grandkids. A boyhood friend of mine speaks almost reverently about standing with his grandpa on winter nights just looking wonderingly at the stars.

Older people don't spend a lot of time worrying about tomorrow. I had an older buddy who used to say that he never even bought green bananas anymore. Kids too live in the moment. Tell a kid that you'd like to help him "later" or "in two hours." and he automatically writes you off. Only the present really matters.

Little kids are naturally non-judgmental. They hardly notice if their classmates are of a different color or dress differently. Older folks (at least the wise ones) have re-learned the tolerance they once had as kids. I recall a gay friend who was afraid that his grandma would discover he was homosexual. Turned out that Grandma knew who he was and accepted him long before anyone else in the family. She just never made a big deal over it.

Unfortunately, both kids and old folks have to put up with similar kind of negative perceptions by the wider society. Neither young children nor senior citizens are much valued in our culture. In a world that judges people on the money we make or the kind of car we drive, there is not a lot of patience for people who are not contributing to the gross domestic product of the nation. People in the middle generation talk endlessly about the problems caused by a younger generation or by the concern they have for the increasing number of older people in our population. We don't hear nearly as much about the contributions in time and talent made by older and younger volunteers, the traditions passed on by the old and the energy brought to the table by the young.

Kids and geezers find themselves in the same boat. They are drawn to one another because they recognize similar values like playfulness, simplicity, a sense of wonder, and the capacity to live in the present moment. Children live these values naturally. Wise elders rediscover them. The whole society is enriched by them.