There has been a veterinarian clinic in my living room for the last two weeks. Cardboard boxes, laundry baskets, and upended toy bins line the walls, each filled with stuffed animals suffering from various ailments and injuries. Wild cats in one cage, domesticated in another, naturally. There’s a dolphin with a bandaged fin swimming in a blue blanket. The coffee table-turned-exam-room is littered with bandages, stethoscopes, and syringes. Name badges hung from Mardi Gras beads display the vet’s and her assistant’s credentials. My daughters insist they need this particular space—the one area of the house I attempt to keep free of toys. Part of me loves how diligently they care for their little charges in their imaginary world. But a larger, order-seeking part of me longs for the day when the living room will perhaps be all mine again, void of the domestic jetsam and flotsam that multiplies daily. One day in the seemingly distant future, the carpet will finally be clear of large Amazon boxes, no longer needed as cages, cars, or anterooms for blanket forts.
As I wade through the trappings of their childhood to reach the couch—annoyed by the clutter, internally wishing for more sophisticated environs, and ready to serve an eviction notice to the vet clinic—I am reminded of the words of Maria Montessori, whose book lay on the same table:
There are some of those who think that the child’s only value for humanity lies in the fact that he will some day be an adult. In this way they detract from the true value of childhood by shifting it only into the future. This cannot be justified. The child is a human entity having importance in himself; he is not just a transition on the way to adulthood. We ought not to consider the child and the adult merely as successive phases in the individual’s life. We ought rather to look upon them as two different forms of human life, going on at the same time, and exerting upon one another a reciprocal influence.
So, perhaps it is more truly our living room, not just mine. And this veterinary practice is essential in itself, not just as preparation for a future adult profession. That my children need my influence is obvious, but what is this reciprocal influence the children have upon me? In the first chapter of her book The Child and the Church, Montessori sets forth the idea that God forms the adult through the child by forming in her the life of self-forgetfulness and sacrificing love. She says, Because of what the child stands for and his needs [both physical and spiritual] we may regard him as a great external grace which enters the family, in which he fulfills the apostolate of the child.
Furthermore, she claims that were we to change the center of civilization from the adult to the child a more noble form of civilization would arise. It is an astounding claim, but one worth considering: that if we were to attend more fully to the spiritual needs of children and to enhance our vision so that we see God in them, our society would be transformed for the better. Montessori elaborates:
Today, progress is sought for, too much and too exclusively, through adult qualities. Thus, civilization is based on the triumph of force, on violent conquest . . . on the struggle for existence and the survival of the conqueror. The sad consequences of this development show themselves in the religious-moral field, in social economics and in international politics. All these things are a living proof that in the construction of a society something—some essential element—has been missing; that the characteristics of the child have had too little influence, because he and the adult have been too far apart.
The vet taps me on the leg. “Do you want to take one of the cats home? If so, it’ll be $3.25.”
The child has almost disappeared from the thoughts of the adult world, and the adults live too much as though there were no children who have the right to influence them.
“How about the ocelot? Has its paw healed yet?” I ask, and hold off on that eviction notice.