Kids Say It Best

Most kids are stinking cute before the age of five. After that, they go to pot and turn what otherwise would be a relatively calm pair of adults into blubbering crazy-eyed parents who can’t think straight for longer than two minutes.

I have personal experience with this. I used to be a cool guy. Then I had kids. Now I’m just a too-old-for-Tik-Tok-worn-out-grumpy-grey-haired grandpa. Cute turned into smarty pants and smarty pants turned into roll-my-eyes-at-everything-you-say, then they moved out and became parents of cute kids.

I always enjoy watching the show.

I remember what it was like when my three were cute and full of cuddles. Stuffed animals were their best friends. They played with pots and pans. They made stuff out of mud. They liked being tucked in at night. They got excited when I freestyled a bedtime story.

Que the voice of Earl Ray Jones:

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a prince who was just about your age. His father, the King, told him he could play in the fields around the castle anywhere he wanted, but he warned the boy never to play in the forest. The forest was dark and foreboding. At night, from his bed chamber, the young prince could hear the faint sound of howls coming from deep inside the forest. He wanted to be scared, but, in fact, he was brave. “One day,” he said to himself, “I’m going to find out what’s out there.”

For some reason, my kids had a lot of nightmares when they were young. No way my stories had anything to do with all those therapy sessions.

Meet Isaac, my neighbor. He is four years old. He has so much blonde hair that he has the huggable sheep dog look. Straight, wispy bangs to his eyebrows. I think his eyes are blue. Maybe brown. I should pay more attention. But every time I see him his eyes are so bright they nearly blind me. And teeth, Lord that boy has a smile.

“Hey Mr. Paul.” He’s usually shouting greetings from inside a car. His Nan and D (his names for grandma and grandpa) are my closest neighbors, and we share a long country driveway through the woods.

I’m out walking in the evening and a car pulls up the drive. The back window comes down. There’s a car seat with a blonde mop on top.

“Hey Mr. Isaac. Where have you been today?”

Isaac ignores my question and gets straight to his favorite subject.

“Where’s Max? I like Max.” He tells the truth.

Max is a great kid-friendly dog. He never fusses. He never barks or snaps. I’ve seen my own grandkids climb all over him on the living room floor and Max just kind of lays there, looking at me with those eyes like, “What am I? A rug?”

Isaac got to know Max because he hangs out over at Nan and D’s house a lot. And when I’m gone, Max hangs out over at Nan and D’s house so he can visit with Biscuit, his four-legged buddy. All of which means that during these visits, Isaac and Max have become buddies, too.

“Max likes it when I scratch his ears.” Yes he does. Isaac is educating me on my own dog.

“Where is Max?” The boy is persistent.

When you’re four and strapped into a car seat, it’s hard to see the ground right next to the car. Isaac is pushing up with his arms, straining his neck, chin up, trying to see if he can spot Max.

“He’s right here next to me.” Isaac strains to sit up taller.

“Hey Max. Hey Max. Hey Max.” By now, Max is peeing on D’s tire.

I’m not sure what Isaac thinks of his old grey-haired neighbor. His pearly white smile tells me he’s friendly with about everybody he meets. You know how it goes. Little kids will speak to total strangers like old friends.

Old ladies at the grocery store, for example. “Hi,” a small voice says with enthusiasm.

“Well, hi to you, sweety. Aren’t you a cutie?” Cheeks are pinched.

“Your face has a lot of wrinkles,” the kid says. Mom hangs her head and covers her eyes with her hand.

“Yes it does, and I’ve earned everyone of them.” The lady is cheerful about it. If I said that to a strange lady at the grocery store I’d get swatted with a pocketbook and the cops would show up.

When we were in Tennessee a couple weeks ago, we were walking the trail up to Laurel Falls. The park attendant at the trail head stopped us to say, “Sorry, no pets allowed on the trail.” He was smiling because he was looking at cute little Dorothy. We laughed about it, but evidently, Dorothy filed that piece of information away as gospel.

On the walk back down, we passed a women carrying her dog in her arms. He couldn’t have weighed more than two pounds. A fru-fru-pup with a red bow and long hair. Dorothy spotted the violation right off.

“Hey,” she said. One hand on her hip and pointing at the pup with the other index finger. “No dogs allowed.” Dorothy is four. She and the sweet lady talked for ten minutes about the doggy violation until Dorothy was convinced that it was okay.

When I was four, the men I knew who were 65 were born in 1895. I’m sure that when Isaac looks at me, he imagines that I’m older than anything on earth. Wrinkles on the back of my hands. A few brown spots that are tale-tale signs of an ancient existence. Telling Isaac that I was born in 1956 is like telling him I’m from Mars.

But age is not a factor when you’re four. In Isaac’s world, there are no prejudices. No misguided assumptions. Everybody he meets gets a fair chance at being a friend. And he takes his responsibility for being a friend to his neighbor seriously.

Here’s how I know.

Isaac lost his very good friend, Samson, recently. Samson was his furry buddy that had been by Isaac’s side since he came into this world. Isaac didn’t know a world without Samson.

What I didn’t know was that Isaac was aware of my loss. I would never have imagined that he even remembered Beth. He was only three when she died. But like I said, this kid is sharp.

Nan wrote me the other day to tell me about Samson. Tough day for a cute kid. Then she told me about Isaac’s bedtime prayer.

“Dear God. Thank you for Samson. We are sad that the died and can’t come back. Thank you that he is in heaven with Aunt Toni, Miss Beth, PaPa Barfield, and Granny. Amen.”

You never know what a kid is going to say that will take your breath away. A heart that is pure. A love that is free to anyone who will take it.

Youd like my little neighbor. He’s so stinking cute.

Unless you become like little children . . .