Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Six Year Olds in Line: An Observation

Sitting here at lunch, I suddenly realized that I have been so caught up in posting about "serious" stuff that I han't written a single thing about me personally (unless you count my taste in poetry, a clear picture of which is gradually emerging here). I don't mean to imply that any of the 15 people who somehow end up here everyday have any desire to read about my personal life, but this is my blog, and I feel like I should talk about me sometimes. So, here goes.

This morning I took my oldest son, who is in first grade, to school early so that we could have breakfast in the cafeteria (something he really enjoys), and so I could talk to his teacher before there were 15 six year olds in her room. When we got to the cafeteria, I quickly learned that the first wave of buses arrive about 20 minutes before we usually get there, and that the bus riders flock to the cafeteria in one big group. This meant that my son and I found ourselves at the back of a long line that snaked its way across half of the cafeteria. My first thought was, there is no way we are going to be able to get breakfast, eat it, and still have time for me to talk to his teacher. The line looked at least 30 minutes long. But to my surprise, we had our food and were searching for seats in just under 5 minutes. I was amazed. How on earth did a line that long, and one composed of 4-8 year olds (the school is Pre-K through 6th, but almost all of the kids eating breakfast in the mornings are from the first few grades), move that fast?

Now I consider myself an expert on length-to-time ratios in lines. I stand in lines daily, usually more than once. My grocery store has lines 24 hours a day (trust me, I've been at the back of the line, way back in one of the aisles, at 3 am). Adult lines are incredibly slow. If I had been stuck in line as long as the one I stood in this morning at the elementary school, and it had been composed of adults, I would have been able to read The Sorrows of Young Werther in its entirety. How on earth did a line full of a bunch of rowdy elementary school kids, many of whom have an incredibly difficult time deciding what they want for breakfast once they get to the front of the line, move that fast?

It's probably true that all sorts of things slow us adults up in lines. We've got credit card receipts to sign, checks to write (ugh!), and people to hit on. But believe me, 4, 5, and 6 year olds have all sorts of things going on when they are in line, too, and a 4 year old on her own, trying to reach up to grab a tray, figure out what she needs to give the lady at the register, and avoid being stepped on by giant 7 year olds is just as bad as any 95 year old check writer with no valid ID. So how on Earth did the line move that fast? The only explanation I can think of is that elementary school students are just better at lines than we adults are. I think we should study their methods closely, so that next time I spend 30 minutes in line holding a 24 pack of Coke and a half gallon of milk, I can take everyone aside and instruct them on how to do lines more efficiently. Or maybe we should have 6 year olds monitoring the lines, making sure that we remain firmly focused on the goal -- to get through the line as quickly as possible.