Recently, a friend approached me carrying a brightly colored nylon vessel which appeared to hold some just some foliage. This was a three year old friend, one who rarely speaks to me, but I always know from her eyes and her body that she is taking every minute detail in and storing it deep inside her rapidly-growing brain. When I knelt down and asked her what she had, she initially turned to her mom’s leg and hid her face. I asked another quiet question or two which unlocked the vault. With verbal paucity, she told me it was her caterpillar and then turned back to her mom. Clearly, we had maxed out on our conversation after a few words. Since we had made head way in our connection, I concluded with, “I like it!” Boy did I get a smile out of my little friend!
I’ve thought often of that brief interaction in the past few weeks – the simplicity and innocence, the wonderous mysteries life presents (particularly in the spring), the importance of treading lightly as relationships and trust are established, and the sheer joy found in living in the moment with young children. This conversation happened at the end of a frenetic day in first grade – the juxtaposition for me of teacher/colleague/parent roles which can often leave me internally frazzled. But that two minute conversation stayed with me to lift my spirits that day and to remind me of so many of the simple wonderings of early childhood. It was also one of those “ah-ha” moments when I am reminded of what happens when we are really present (i.e., there mentally, emotionally, and physically) with our kids. It’s joyful, truly joyful,when we allow outselves to be there alongside their wonderings and discoveries.
Since that time, I’ve been making a mental list and re-playing in my head some of my favorite wonderings and discoveries from my children’s earlier days and my experiences teaching. It’s sort of like one of those columns in a parenting magazine which would be titled “10 Things Ya Gotta Do in Spring” or “Oh, My! 100 Days of Summer, What Am I Going To Do With My Kids?” Magazines are full of them this time of year. I used to rip them out, subsequently lose them, and then try to recall what those brilliant and earth-shattering suggestions that told me I should be doing as a mom. But finding wonderful things to do with our kids isn’t really that complicated, scary, or challenging as we often read and hear it is. I chucked as I read Lenore Skenazy’s article in today’s Washington Post titled “Parenting Advice? That’s Just Quackery.” Reading parenting books has become more than a hobby, but a requirement for most of us. I’d love to know what percentage of Amazon orders include parenting books. I know every order I place includes at least one title. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against parenting books and articles (especially since now I sit on both sides of the fence), but you have to wonder how we – modern parents – have lost our confidence in our ability to make solid choices for and about our children without a recommendation or validation from something in print. Carrying around a caterpillar in a basket for a day or two etches a sense of wonder and understanding of the natural world in a three year old’s being – and provides real-life entertainment, conversation and activity. Who needs a a book to tell us that?
If you are old enough to remember Dr. Spock, remember his dogma “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” We all know parenting is a tough job, without a user’s manual. It can be overwhelming and exhausting and we all need support in the form of partners, friends, or a good read at the end of a long day. Go for it – whatever rejuvinates you and keeps you going as you juggle so many roles and responsibilities. But also, trust in yourself and in your child(ren). A caterpillar, a bowl of homemade brownies (yes – you can do that!), washing the car by hand, nuturing seedlings, a leisurely stroll through the library or around the neighborhood are the stuff of wonderings, joy and real-life learning. Whatever captures the heart and mind of your child will move them forward as a learner and a human. If you can stop to explore and enjoy it with them, it will do the same for you.
I wish each of you a happy mothers’ day and all parents a happy day with your children. We’re all busy, working hard to do our best and give our families/friends/jobs our best, and often conflicted or stressed by trying to meet expectations and demands. Try enjoying the process and trust yourself – see if you don’t find joy in that simplicity!
P.S. If you didn’t already read Lenore Skenazy’s article, check out the link to the right. If your child seems to be taking a step backward or is seeming a bit anxious as the school year draws to a close, be sure to read Chip Wood’s take on spring in Yardsticks, also listed to the right.