Four Classes of Adults

There’s a children’s book called Half Magic by Edward Eager. My sister claims that we both read it when we were kids, but I found I had pretty much forgotten everything that had happened in it (as usual), so it was like new to me. I’m fond of children’s books that are about lazy summers spent exploring and having adventures, and Half Magic is pretty much in that vein. It was also written back in 1954, so the slight oddity of language to my contemporary ear makes it all the more enjoyable. It’s also quite an observant book when it comes to noting adult behavior; this excerpt regarding the four kinds of adults that the children are aware of is, I think, right on the money (emphasis mine):

The four children generally divided all grownups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson who—frankly, and cruel as it might be to say it—just weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon. Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, who—when they were with children—always seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them. Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were, themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class. Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown-ups were grown-ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

It took me a while to figure out why this passage struck me so, and I eventually realized that it was because I felt it seemed to generally apply to the making of connections with other people.

  • Some people, like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin, you just merely try to get along with because there just isn’t a connection of any kind. You come from such different worlds with such distinctively different personalities that no connection, however tenuous, is likely to hold. So you talk about the weather, and silently exult when someone’s cell phone rings to break the awkwardness.

  • Then there are those people, like Mamie King, who really do want to get to know you, and they go a little too far and make you uncomfortable by crossing certain boundaries. You know, like that guy at the bar who insists on telling you the intimate details of his life story, or the girl at work who laughs a little too quickly and loudly at your jokes. And in the reverse, when we find ourselves reaching for something—anything, really—that will get us through that endless two minutes on the elevator ride up to the office by cracking the same tired old jokes…sigh.

  • The people we get along with in a social sense are good people, but they’re never quite that close because we’ve got to watch what we say. So these people aren’t so much like the teachers that expect the best of us; as adults, we expects that other adults adhere to certain norms of civility and etiquette. Conformity, in other words. Of course, it’s wonderful when you fit in, but it’s also kind of a strain because you can’t tell your favorite dirty jokes, relate something Bobby said on King of the Hill, or express a heartfelt sentiment like, “You know, Hillary Clinton is kind of hot” and not have it taken the wrong way by someone. Your safe areas of conversation are lawn care, mortgages, sports, and top 10 television shows. Comfortable, but kind of limited.

  • The best people of all are those ones that accept you as you are. They’re your real friends, and you’ve decided for whatever reason that you get along and there’s nothing more to discuss. Say anything around them, and it doesn’t affect the way they feel about you and vice versa. They are indeed the rarest of them all, and the ones to keep around you.

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p>I’ll have to re-read Harriet the Spy next; I believe my sis left a copy here for me somewhere.