Why I Love Kids: #1 in a very long series

Went to see my niece, Nathalie Chicoine*, perform in the Ballet Califia‘s Nutcracker this afternoon at the Spreckels Center in Rohnert Park, California. Nathalie performed beautifully, playing a young party girl, a Chinese dancer, and a flower in the Dance of the Flowers. (Ballet Califia is not a huge company – multiple roles are the norm.) Quite a stage presence, that girl. We’ve seen her perform in the Nutcracker at least five years in a row now, and since she’s only ten years old, there will no doubt be many more Drosselmeyers to come.

Part of the fun of seeing this particular company perform is watching the kids grow and transition to more demanding roles as they age. The youngest member of the troupe today must have been no more than three years old. She played a mouse, scampering around the stage with the somewhat older mice who kept a close eye on her, lest–in her wide-eyed wonder at the bright lights and flying bodies–she might wander offstage or fall into the orchestra pit.

When the Littlest Mouse wasn’t skipping, scampering, or lying on her back for some well-choreographed kicks, she was engaged in what Alison Gopnik, the author of The Philosophical Baby, calls “lantern-like consciousness.” (My San Francisco Chronicle review of that excellent book is here.)

“Instead of experiencing a single aspect of their world and shutting down everything else [as adults do], they seem to be vividly experiencing everything at once… Their brains, as well as minds, are dramatically plastic, profoundly open to new possibilities.”

And that is exactly what the Littlest Mouse was doing, as her attention skipped from the task at hand (run on tiptoe, jump up and down, act scared), to the huge puppet waving its wooden arms above her, to the bewildering stampede of uniformed boys with toy swords circling around her, and back again. She was completely lost in the moment, oblivious to the audience, her lantern consciousness taking in everything on the stage.

Me? I was sitting there in the 13th row with my boring old adult “spotlight consciousness”–picking out one aspect of the world around me and shutting out the rest, as Dr. Gopnik would say. But what an aspect! As the Littlest Mouse finally left the stage, she stopped for a moment to look back at the swirling spectacle. Then a bigger, slightly more Nutcracker-savvy mouse–probably all of five years old herself–yanked her stage right, and she was gone.

And that’s why I love kids.

* * *

(*Chicoine is pronounced shik-WAHN,  for those readers lacking French-Canadian linguistic skills [and not chee-chee-OH-nee, or chi-COIN, as that noble name is often massacred]. My in-laws will love me for this.)

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