“I can’t wait to grow up and be an adult!”

A child of 5 years old says this and my first reaction is an absolute sense of alarm. I want to tell him that the adult world he is looking forward to isn’t as exciting as he thinks. Transitioning to becoming an adult is to experience hardship and disappointment, over and over again.

I yearn to tell him all this, but I find it difficult to express. Even if I did, to what extent could he wrap his head around it? He looks up at me with a smile so earnest, his innocence warming my soul but at the same time, I feel my heart breaking. To think that in a few years, this little boy’s innocence will start to be chipped away. Maybe that’s why parents have the tendency to say ominous things to their children because they are aware that it’s too miserable to explain that being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So they just… watch them grow up.

All I can do is smile back at this child and I say nothing.

I have two very precious nephews. They’re 5 and 10 years old.. I watched them grow from babies to who they are now and I can already see the clear distinction between the 5-year-old and the 10-year-old’s thought processes.

The 5-year-old is full of energy and asks unsophisticated questions and is sincerely curious. His questions have no hidden intentions. He just wants to know for the sake of knowing.

“What is that on your head?” It’s a cap.

“What colour is it?” Navy blue.

“Why do you wear it?” Because it kind of goes with my outfit.

He looks puzzled at the last one. I guess it’s too much for him to handle, so he shrugs it off.

But the 10-year-old, his questions are on a different level. His questions are hidden with intentions. There is an H. G. Wells book in my hand and he takes a long, hard look at it.

“Where did you get it?” He asks and it’s obvious that he mentally notes this down for future reference.

“How much is it?” As I answer with the price, he thinks if he is able to use his pocket money to buy it.

“Are you going anywhere today?” If I am free, he will follow-up on the next question.

“Can you take me to the bookstore?”

The 10-year-old is able to think further ahead than the 5-year-old. He’s able to make future references and slowly make long-term goals. Whereas, the younger one, couldn’t just yet.

I take the older boy to the bookstore and as we get out of the car, we hear shouting from across the street. It is a man and a woman, verbally quarrelling. I tear my eyes away from the debacle and walk towards the bookstore. I look back and see that my nephew has his eyes glued to the drama unraveling across the street. He’s never seen anything like it and I can see a chip of the innocence crumbling away.

It’s painful for me to watch him as his glassy eyes widen in surprise. I grab his hand, snapping him out of his reverie and I lead him into the bookstore.

He is quiet for a while as we navigate through the aisles of books.

Then he speaks.

“Why do people fight so much?”

My heart suddenly grows heavy and I look back at him as he furrows his eyebrows. I think for a while, trying to come up with the best answer to this very difficult question. I can opt to just say that I don’t know, but that is a low blow. A smart child like him should not be kept in the dark to find out for himself. It would hurt me even more. So I try my best.

“They fight usually because of a misunderstanding. People fight because they think they know each other, but nobody actually really knows each other. People can surprise you, even if you’ve lived with them your whole life. That’s why it’s important to communicate. So whenever you feel down, or you don’t feel comfortable with something, or you have problems that’s bothering you — don’t be afraid to say so.”

He nods, slowly.

I’m not sure if he truly understands.

Then, he responds.

“I kind of get it. It’s like when my brother and I fight because he thought I stole his toy robot, but it’s actually under his pillow.”

I laugh. He gets it.

If I can get him to understand just a little bit of the world beyond his years, maybe I don’t have to feel bad after all. It’s unrealistic of me to think that I could protect him from the evils of the world that would tear his innocence apart. But I’m glad that I can at least give a small insight of what it’s like to handle the world when it throws rocks at you.