I am sitting on an airplane next to a round-faced little girl in pink. Her mother calls her “Mouse” and isn’t interested in talking to her, but she’s full of curiosity about everything from the ventilation system to the creation of the world, so she plies me with questions and stories for the whole flight.
She gazes out the window as we skim the cloudbanks. “It looks like we’re flying on glass.”
She asks, “Have you ever landed from the sky in water?”
“Not in this body.”
“But can people do that?”
“Oh, sure. There’s a kind of plane called a flying boat, or a seaplane, that lands on pontoons that keep it afloat. And then there are rocket ships that splash down and are fished out.”
“Have you ever touched the sun?”
“Not with my hand.”
“Sometimes I feel the sun is following me, real close.”
She thinks for a bit, then comes out with, “How was the world invented?”
“Some people say God made the world. Others say it began with a Bing Bang and the star-stuff has been expanding ever since.”
“I know a boy who says the world was made by God blowing sand.”
I falter a bit, as she quizzes me further on cosmogony and the on how “Cheeses” (it takes me a moment to realize she is talking Jesus) was born. Then she looks up at the air vent and asks me to show her how it works. I demonstrate turning it counter-clockwise to let the air out, clockwise to shut it off.
“Maybe that’s how the universe was made,” Mouse says brightly. “Someone turned everything counter-clockwise.”
She laughs. Her mother looks sullen; it seems Mouse isn’t supposed to laugh.
I am so sorry for Mouse’s mother, because she is missing so much. Kids are the masters of imagination, and we gain so much by listening and sharing their stories, their dreams, their versions of reality. If mom would only listen to Mouse, then perhaps the 11-year-old inside the adult would come alive, bringing energy and joy and everyday magic. I profoundly hope that Mouse will survive the efforts to turn off her world of wonder, and will be able to claim the name and the role in life that pleases her.