In my childhood, there were many of those milestone events when you moved up to the next level. For some reason, we assigned the adjective "big" or "real" to them.
I don’t have an active memory of this, but graduating from a baby bed to a larger bed was moving to a "big" bed. The same was true for the graduation from diapers to something less cumbersome.
After successfully completing preschool, I was ready to go to "big" school. My brother was already in big school and I was anxious to join him.
Having spent the requisite amount of time in the cradle roll department at church, I was promoted to the beginner department. Somewhere in that process, one was invited to go to "big" church, where they sing something more difficult than, "If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands."
"Real" was the modifier assigned to things like bicycles without training wheels, cap pistols, baseballs and footballs.
By age 6, I wanted a real baseball, not the soft kind with painted-on stitches.
"Big" and "real" were used on the progression from toddler and later when it became time to be a responsible adult. If you went to the dentist without whining you were a big boy. If you did something responsible in your teen years, you were becoming a real man.
I’m not sure how much we use big and real anymore. I’m sure that some expert has determined that describing something as big and real will result in everlasting harm to the development of your child. I’m sure there have been several television shows that air between 3 and 6 p.m. devoted to this very subject.
We have lost some of the real. When I first learned cursive writing, we called it "real" writing. Based on some of the penmanship I’ve seen, we’re not spending much time on handwriting.
I had a teacher who had these old, old books on the Palmer method of handwriting. I don’t remember much, except you were not supposed to pick up your pen in mid-word. These books were old. I can remember the exercise for learning to write "t." One sentence was "Tommy took the trolley to the telegraph office to send a telegram to Topeka." We didn’t have a telegraph office or a trolley in Social Circle, at least not in my childhood.
We’re not going to be graded on our handwriting ability anymore. We’re just measured by how we fill in little circles with a No. 2 pencil.
Today’s use of real comes in the form of reality. TV is now filled with shows that purport to be examples of how people really live.
We’ve become consumed with the lives of people like Tori and Dean, who live a rather extravagant life in their Hollywood home. Somehow, the breakup of TV icons Jon and Kate became tawdry tabloid headlines in every supermarket checkout line.
My big influence was the real lives of men who fought for freedom and came home and contributed to the betterment of their communities. They loved their families and provided well for them.
That’s big and real enough for me.
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.