Back in the late 1950s the TV personality Art Linkletter published a collection of amusing utterances from the mouths of children. He called it Kids Say the Darndest Things. The book was hugely popular, and no wonder. Linkletter was mining a rich vein — and an inexhaustible one. I've often wondered why more parents don't bother to write down the sayings of their own youngsters the way my wife and I did.
When our three sons were little, I kept a diary. Along with luncheon appointments and tennis match scores and opinions of books and movies, I began more and more to fill its pages with snippets from the boys' conversations. I don't mean "cute sayings" from when they were learning how to talk. I mean serious (to them) dialogues, candid observations and some highly original thinking. I still smile when I read these pages today.
Let me share a few of my favorite entries with you:
At bedtime I sat on the edge of Davey's bed and questioned the boys about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
"What do you want to be, Davey," I asked, "a ballplayer?"
"No," said Davey. "An artist."
"How about you?" I said, turning to Tim. "What do you want to be?"
"Winston Churchill," came the grave reply.
Early one evening Tim was asked, "How much is one and one?"
Tim, who showed early signs of becoming a negotiator, replied: "How about three?"
David: I'm going to eat my grapes.
Tim: They're not your grapes till you eat them. Not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet. . . . Now they're yours.
"You have to play inside today, Tim."
"No, I want to play outside."
"Why don't you want to play inside?"
"It's getting too late inside."
At a restaurant an elderly woman, good-looking and well dressed, sat next to us. She chatted pleasantly with Davey, who sat nearest her. Finally he gave her a long, unblinking look and said:
"How old are you?"
"Well, sonny," she said smiling, "can you count up to 70?"
Davey scrutinized her. "I can count up to 100."
John, age 7, was home from school and we were having cookies and milk at the kitchen table.
"Well, John," I said, "what did you learn in school today?"
"I learned to say 'road' in Spanish."
"How does that go, John?" John took a bite of cookie and said "el camel."
"I'm almost sure that's not how it goes, John."
"In that case I didn't learn anything."
I informed John that it was time for him to learn how to work.
"Work?" said John. "What's that?"
"Work is like cutting grass and raking leaves. I'd like you to rake leaves."
"How long do I have to rake?"
I looked at my watch. It was 10:30 on a beautiful autumn morning. "Until lunchtime," I said.
He agreed and went to get a rake. Ten minutes later I walked into the kitchen, where he sat eating a peanut butter sandwich. "What are you doing?"
"Having lunch," he said.
A few years later on another Saturday morning, John was complaining that all his friends were out of town, there was nothing good on TV and he had nothing to do.
"Read a book," I said to him. "We have a thousand books in the house. Read one of my books. I wrote Rabbits Rafferty for boys and girls just your age. I happen to know that you only read three pages and put it down. An Afternoon in Waterloo Park is all about your own father's childhood, and you only read one page of that and never picked it up again."
He stared at me for a moment. "Doesn't that tell you something?"
Tim: I wonder what would happen if you spilled borscht on a Stradivarius? . . . Probably wipe it off and not tell the guy.
Dave: Dad, Tim says space stops after you go real far, but it really keeps going forever, doesn't it?
Tim: It stops at Heaven.
Dave: Tim, we don't know where Heaven is. It doesn't have to be up. It could be sideways, or here on Earth in someplace we don't know about, or even down in the ground.
Tim: Heaven couldn't be down in the ground.
Dave: Oh yes it could!
Tim: Then why do angels have wings?
So there you have a few examples of the kind of conversation you don't get at your weekly Chamber of Commerce luncheons, and reminders of why we should all hang around children more often. Two decades ago the essayist E. B. White wrote to me after seeing a drawing John had done: "Children are the best artists — they are free of inhibitions and can go ahead smoothly and easily and with no regrets." They talk like that, too, and when yours do, take the time to write it all down. Someday you'll be glad you did.