Kids say the funniest things, goes the (adult) saying. I’d argue that they also say the most intriguing, smart and imaginative things. I maintain that the poetry some schoolchildren write is better than many adults’ efforts: a) because they’ve never had a breakup, which can result in cringe poetry, and b) the malleability of kids’ brains is a literary asset (there have been actual studies into this). I think my favourite poem in the past few years might be one that I saw online, written by Nael, age six: The tiger
He destroyed his cage
The tiger is out
The exuberant triumph of that capital YES is pure magic. Is it really any wonder that Thomas Chatterton wrote his best poems while still being, essentially, a child himself?
A lot of the things kids say are unintentionally funny, but often there is a certain guile that goes uncredited. Occasionally I think they say or do embarrassing things in the knowledge that they are embarrassing – and just want to see how we deal with it. Particularly in the middle aisles of supermarkets, or at a moment before a concert starts when an auditorium is silent.
Or they’ll ask questions that philosophy of mathematics professors are still working on. As with a former partner’s six-year-old daughter, who asked me “how big” infinity was. I said I didn’t think infinity was classed as a number, maybe an equation, but really I guess it was a concept. And then she asked what was the biggest number? And was there anything bigger than infinity? I vaguely remembered that there was… omega? But at this point I was sweating, so I changed the topic to Taylor Swift, an area in which I am much better versed.
I’ll admit to finding pictures of people’s kids cute but basically all the same. Yet I will always want to hear about the fun things they have come out with. A colleague once told me that when she caught her child pointing a torch at their feet, the explanation was: “I am shining my shoes.”
These quirky turns of phrase and lateral observations delight us jaded, cynical adults so much that they prove very popular when shared online. One woman told of how, when she brought along her seven-year-old son to a meeting with a mortgage adviser, he quickly established: “I’m not her husband.” I loved the kid who answered the question on his exam paper, “What ended in 1896?” with “1895”.
So thank you, children, for reminding us of the delight and exhilaration to be found in the world. Yes, YES, the tiger is out.