81: The Perfect Age

81: The Perfect Age

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

The Perfect Age

Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.

~Muriel Spark

The assignment was up on the board for my sixth grade, inner-city students in East Los Angeles: “What is the perfect age, and why would you like to be that age?” As a new, twenty-three-year-old teacher, I spent hours each night reading the latest teaching journals, magazines, and books about helping students reach their potential. I hoped this assignment would be fun but help them think about their futures and what they hoped to achieve in life. I could tell by their expressions that maybe, just maybe, this would do the trick!

They had a half-hour to write this assignment. They did not need to worry about spelling or punctuation at this point. We would revise their stories later after they had written their rough drafts. After a half-hour, I collected their papers. I was excited to see their ideas. I soon found, like all assignments, that some were great, some students did the absolute minimum, but all thought quite a bit about the perfect age!

Billy thought the perfect age was eighteen because he wanted to join the Army. He wanted to see the world and be stationed in Hawaii to see the “hot babes” on the beach. Never mind that this was at the height of the Vietnam War, and I doubt if he would have had the chance to relax on the beaches of Hawaii for long before being deployed to the jungles of Vietnam.

Hilda asked me how old I was. When I told her I was twenty-three, she wrote that she wanted to be the same age. She said she would like to be a sixth grade teacher, wear nice clothes, have long pretty hair, and have fun with her students like I always seemed to do. I am glad it looked like fun to her! She did not realize that since she only read at a third grade level at that time, I was very stressed out to see all of the work I needed to do with her that year so she could become a teacher at twenty-three.

Next was rambunctious Alfonso. He wanted to be twenty-one years old so he could become a famous boxer like he saw on TV. As you know, boxing can be a very bloody battle and many times one of the fighters is knocked unconscious. The thought of sweet Alfonso boxing made me shudder. I hoped that he either became a really great boxer or changed goals before he reached twenty-one.

Several boys wanted to be professional football players to make lots of money. The ages they thought were perfect differed, but the outcomes were the same. They saw professional sports as their way out of the barrio, with lots of money coming their way. Jorge said he would use the money to buy his mom a new home with a bedroom for each member of the family. That would be eight bedrooms!

Polly Maria wanted to be twenty-five. She thought that would be fun because she hoped by then she would be a mom and she loved taking care of children. She helped take care of her brothers and sisters, and her mom said she did a great job. She wanted to have four children, and she would name them Maria Luisa, Maria Ana, Maria Lucia, and Maria Patricia. I guess boys were not in her plan.

Serious Michael wanted to be thirty. He thought by then he would have a business degree from the University of Southern California, his own business, and a beautiful wife. I am sure he has done that and is enjoying a wonderful career with a lovely family.

Quinceañera was a concern for two girls. This is the age when many girls from Latino families have a big coming of age birthday party. So Amelia and Sophia felt this was the best age to be as they were already dreaming about this big event in their lives. At recess, they would sit and talk about their dresses, how they would wear their hair, who they might invite, and which cute boys they might dance with at the reception.

But I will always remember Victoria’s story. She was a shy, bright, thoughtful child. She never said much, but you could see her thinking deeply. For this assignment, she sat and thought for ten minutes, then picked up her pencil and wrote something that has stayed with me my whole life. In that assignment, she became the teacher, and I was the student learning from a wise eleven-year-old.

Victoria wrote that every age was the perfect age. She wrote that God designed life that way so we could experience each stage of life. She said that every person deserves to be a beloved baby who is the center of the family’s attention. Victoria then said that it is wonderful how we get to experience our first day of school in kindergarten, making friends throughout our school experience, graduating from high school, hopefully getting married, having children, and perhaps living long enough to have grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.

Her paper brought tears to my eyes then and still does now. As a sixty-seven-year-old retired teacher, mom, and grandmother, I have thought of Victoria and her wise words throughout my life. When I am weary or wish I were younger, I remember Victoria’s wisdom. God did plan every age to be the perfect age for each of us. He wanted us to have the opportunity to experience every stage of life. Amazingly, Victoria saw that as an eleven-year-old!

~Ginny Huff Conahan

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