There were eight of them, boys and girls, from five to twelve years old. I watched them on the beach, as they scrambled up and down the sandy slope and splashed into the shallow water, as they dug and molded the sand and filled buckets of water, as they strategically laid down sticks and removed stones. Without a blueprint or a guide, without a leader giving directions, the structure they were building took on form and function. They shared ideas, gave each other space to innovate, collaborated without quarrels or criticisms, helped each other test their creations for soundness, and negotiated the course and scope of the project to come to a mutually acceptable solution. Occasionally they took a break to swim or start an independent project, but came back to help with the community endeavor.
When we impose our adult ideas of fun, we shut down this natural cooperative and creative play – along with all the learning and joy that accompanies it. Fortunately, all we have to do to encourage it is to give our children the freedom and opportunity to simply be.
“It was Spring.
The leaves burst out.
The flowers burst out.
And robins burst out of their eggs.”
“How are the baby robins made?”
“The mommy robin makes the baby in the egg inside herself and then keeps the eggs warm and safe while the babies grow big enough.”
That answer would have been enough a few months ago. Now there’s a pause – this clearly didn’t answer his real question.
“But how does the mommy robin make the baby?”
Oh shoot. I guess there’s a reason they call it “the birds and the bees”…
“Well, a special cell from the mommy robin – called an egg cell – meets up with a special cell from the daddy robin – called a sperm cell – and they combine to make a brand new cell that grows and grows into a baby robin. Baby birds grow inside eggs just like baby Aubade grew inside Mommy.”
Pause. He looks like it makes sense to him but he’s still thinking it over… I’m hoping this is all the information he needs and I open my mouth to start reading the book again.
“How did Mommy make baby Aubade?”
“The same way a mommy robin makes her babies! An egg cell from Mommy and a sperm cell from Daddy got together to make a new cell that grew and grew, forming Aubade’s shape and organs until she was big enough to be born.”
Then I quickly kept reading before he could ask how the sperm and egg cells found each other!
Rondel and Limerick are near-constant playmates these days, and the presence of another child to play with is doing amazing things for each of their social play skills! Every day I see them create and play elaborate games together, both physical games or pretend games, with agreed-upon and negotiated setup and rules; I hear them get into arguments and fights and resolve conflicts independently of adult input; I watch them learn to observe and take into consideration the things that are important to and enjoyed by each other even if their own inclinations are different; and I see them choosing freely to share their toys and cups and take turns with coveted items. (It’s pretty adorable to hear your 2.5 year old ask his brother to “please move Rondel”, and even nicer to see said big brother make room for the little one – and best of all to see both of them accepting “no” as an answer and offering other options in the attempt to find a solution that leaves everyone happy.)
I don’t force them to share and take turns. If they seem stuck I might suggest those as possible solutions, but unless they’re overtired and getting physical about their conflict, they usually do better without my input, and can come up with solutions that seem “unfair” to me but result in them playing happily together – successful in resolving their short-term conflict with the added benefit of gaining diplomatic skills and confidence for the long run. Honestly, my interference can often make things worse, it seems!
I also don’t try to make them play together. When they want to, they can play alone; but they almost always choose to play in the same room even when they are doing independent activities, for the shear pleasure of showing each other their creations and telling each other their ideas and plans.
In short, they are friends, and they are learning the skills by which friendships are strengthened and maintained.
If they can learn these social skills so well just from each other, with minimum parental guidance for safety and advisory purposes, simply because they are intrinsically motivated to maximize their mutual environment, what else might they learn through that same motivating power? Forcing them to memorize and drill phonics or addition would be as effective as enforcing my ideas of fair play on their interaction: in other words, it would likely lead to resentment and poor skill acquisition. But when they are ready to learn, motivated because they are interested, caught by the beauty or use of a thing, they will learn with the speed and power of a wildfire in drought.
“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher
That’s right, we reached an official high of over 120 degrees this week. The worst few weeks of the year are here, until the monsoons come with some much-needed relief. Even nights are hot; the lows are technically in the 80s but most of the night is spent in the 90s, until just before dawn.
I am still biking to work and back, like an obstinate fool. I mean, I’m somewhat acclimated since I’ve been biking regularly as the temperatures have been climbing, but I can definitely feel the difference between 105 and 120. Even hell has different levels of heat, I suppose… around 100-105 I can still ride six miles without needing to carry water, but at 115-120 not only do I need water to drink, but also to pour over my head once or twice along the way.
For the kids, it’s similar. If they’re going to be outside, they need to be in the water. Water is the Southwestern equivalent of a snowsuit in winter in Michigan – essential for outdoor play! My husband has been taking the boys to the community pool most afternoons once I get home from work, we’ve been setting up the sprinkler in the back yard, and I lugged the kiddie pool out of the garage for the season as well. (The first time I put Aubade in it, her eyes opened wide for one second in complete surprise, and then her mouth opened even wider in a grin of pure delight. It was like she couldn’t imagine something so wonderful existed! Pools are good – but here was a pool she could move around in without needing to be held!) Splash pads are of course also nice, but honestly they’re only usable in the mornings at this point because of the sheer ferocity of the blazing afternoon sun.
(some rare pictures of my husband and me here, along with the kids!)
But still, we’re having a good time. It’s summer! My husband doesn’t have classes, we’re taking a family vacation in a week, Aubade is learning how to crawl and stand and climb and laughs more every day, and the boys keep on growing and learning and maturing in ways that never fail to amaze me. Despite the heat, I’m so thankful to be living here, with this job and this family and a new home to move into next month. We’ll survive the worst summer can throw at us and eventually the fall will come again.
Post-therapy I feel as I imagine Harry felt after one of Snape’s occlumency lessons… I’m sure it’s helpful in the long but it’s not comfortable or easy on the mind in the moment! At least my therapist is friendlier than Snape 😛
A father is important, a critical player in the development of a child, a power that influences lives for better or for worse. A good father is a precious thing. The gift of a great father can hardly be expressed.
Mine was one of the good ones. I’ll go so far as to say he was one of the great ones.
From my earliest memories, he was always willing to enter the world of our interests and activities, crowning them with the gift of his presence, of a companion in play or a fellow researcher in pursuit of some deeper understanding. He was – and still is – one of the best sounding boards I know for any idea, because he can think seriously and engage intelligently about almost any topic. He was – and still is – one of the best people to share something beautiful, profound, or exciting with because he will instantly seek to be and feel with you in the power of that emotion.
As an example of the small everyday things he does that mean the world, just this week I was listening to Holst’s Planets suite and on the second time through found myself so swept away by Jupiter that I couldn’t focus on my work. So I sent my dad a quick text about how awesome it was, remembering that we’d seen it once together in concert – and he wrote back right away saying he was listening to it now too, and spent a few minutes analyzing the moods of the different planets with me. It’s not objectively a huge thing, but his eagerness to share in my interests, just because I’m his child, is one of the things I am most grateful for in life.
So Dad, I hope you have a wonderful Father’s Day! You are the best dad ever, in my admittedly biased opinion, and I’m so thankful for your encouragement and support through all the years of my life.