A very passionate and knowledgeable forensic psychiatrist on television today said we should nurture creativity and constructive activities for children rather than destructive activities. Yeah! Take a look at this video of Michael Welner and see how he calls each of us to be responsible parents who encourage psychologically healthy activities in our children. Although he talks about video games for older kids I know we would be smart to avoid letting electronic games for our littlest children become substitutes for real interaction with others.
When my husband and I were first married and were so young and impressionable, we went to his aunt Maureen’s and his uncle, Meathead’s, every year on Christmas Eve. They lived on Fulton Street in Buffalo, and it was a modest gathering with modest food in a modest house, and I loved it. I loved it because the one thing it had that was not modest at all were the connections between the people who came and went. Folks arrived at the door, both unannounced and expected, and were welcomed like kings. They were offered a drink, some food, a seat, and all the time in the world. I learned from Maureen and Meathead what it is to have relationships. A parade of them passed through the kitchen on Fulton Street before my eyes. There were inside jokes and stories galore, like I never saw. They could go all night laughing about some crazy thing somebody did. It was foreign to me and I was spellbound. These folks cared for each other and you could tell!
Novelty that it was then, I see now it is how it should be for all of us. It is what we should deliver to our children as best we can, this understanding that we are all in this together and sharing time and concern with one another is the way to be.
We passed around a baby last night at a dinner party. This kid was happy as a clam, unconcerned that his parents have been away for two weeks while a host of other humans care for him. The guy was a king with everyone mesmerized by his little bird mouth opening and closing for the food being shoveled in as he sat in a high chair plowing through his dinner. Ears craned against the party noise later on to see if that was the baby monitor squawking or the background music on the kid’s video games. The guy cooed and smiled and entertained us all while he rolled through his life full of willing faces.
This is not how any of my kids were raised. The extended family this guy was born into is huge and has arms outstretched to look after him. I’m even sort of in it. There were not so many clamoring hands outstretched towards my kids when they were growing up.
This is one of the great random happenings of life. Rich or poor, in city or country, or whatever the circumstance, you just might be born into a community of people who welcome children and support them, or you might not. You might be born into a place where nobody’s paying much attention. One of the things I’ve learn in life is that it is important to surround yourself with people who lift you up, whether that happens to you naturally or not.
It’s a choice. I used to adopt preschool teachers and kindergarten teachers, Sunday School teachers, neighbors, parents of my friends and any other willing participants into my world of folks who would lift me up and lift up my children with me. Well, actually, I still do this. I understand it is not something I missed out on so much as something I need to go get. My kids’ babysitter is in her thirties now, and just announced she’s having a baby. We will all be there, me and my husband and my kids, among the helping hands that pass around that baby and support him and help him grow in life. I simply owe that favor back to the world and certainly back to my babysitter.
I just watched a video of my son, Andrew, posted with his buddy, Theo from Minnesota, who is also an exchange student, and they are singing their hearts out specifically to their parents from across the globe. For me there is something about hearing singing, especially lone voices, that makes me very happy, and to have it be my own boy, well, that is fantastic.
When I was young I always said my kids would have to play piano, or sing, or dance, or somehow have an outlet for expressing themselves besides just talking. I worried about whether anyone would be listening to their talk, because no one was in my childhood, even though I knew it would be me who potentially might not be listening. So to me, it seems wildly important that kids have some kind of art because unless you are a writer words are inadequate to express the inevitable frustrations of life. I insisted my kids take piano lessons for at least five years because I know that that’s enough to really learn how to play. Being Andrew, after the piano lessons he moved on to learning drums and then guitar, and then singing and athletics, and eventually to flying away to live with people in another world.
Seeing Andrew so far from home, locating a guitar for himself, and a buddy to sing with, and serenading us across the internet could not be sweeter. In so many ways it tells me that he is fine and doing well and loving life just as I hoped for him.
being yourself, childhood hives, control, Duplo, express feelings, games, inspire, joy, listening, Manahttans, migraine headaches in children, parents, play, playing with blocks, playing with dolls, trust
Sometimes I just feel like hiding. The facts of life are too tough to take and I want to get away from whatever threat they pose. That’s when I might step into the woods and let them wrap themselves around me. I might step into a book or the newspaper, a movie, music, art, or a really large Manhattan. I relax with friends or I play games with my family, but any way I do it I disengage from my life for a little while.
As a kid my options were a little trickier, so that’s why I ended up disengaging by stepping into massive migraine headaches, pretending away things too hard to face, popping out hives all over my body, and not talking. The job of growing up, of learning what life is like, is exhausting for kids because the rate at which new experiences appear can be overwhelming. Practically everything is new when you’ve only been on earth three years! Not to mention, children are emotionally undeveloped and are reasonably frightened by simple threats.
That’s why giving your kids completely unscheduled time is fantastic. That’s why encouraging playing in the back yard is your job as a parent. That’s why creative toys like Duplo, blocks, dolls, crayons and balls are wonderful. There is room in any of these ideas to allow kids to create a space away from reality that satisfies the need to get out of here for a while, and to get a respite from the facts of life.
I can’t help but notice that sometimes little kids know lots more than I do. Today the younger brother of my piano student, who is maybe five years old, was playing Disney games on a portable toy, but all the colorful Mickey Mouse animation kept me from recognizing what he held was an iPad. I need him to show me around his iPad sometime so I am not so easily fooled by the world around me. Not only that, last week, after my latest presentation to parents of preschoolers, it was suggested to me that I use an iPad rather than the old fashioned papers I rustle around. Maybe my new buddy could get me started.
Ah, yes, isn’t that the way, the longer I live the more I realize it is important I keep children with me among my friends.
When kids tell us their fears they are also telling us they’d like some help reinterpreting them, reframing them so they are not so scary. That’s what kids expect from adults, for us to be leaders, and people that show the way to something better. So when I hear my neighbor friend, who is eight, say that she is afraid the trucks repaving our street will wake her up in the morning (since they start their work before dawn), I see an opportunity to show her how to manage such daily interruptions in our otherwise secure world.
For me, the trucks repaving the street are fascinating. They are the people who know what to do with hot tar and rollers, as well as the people in cars who might be in the way, so it is all quite interesting to me. Maybe that’s a way to reframe the scare. To share our own experience. But that may not be enough since grown-ups see the world so differently than children.
I might also be inclined to agree with my friend that the trucks are big and noisy, but that they are happily doing their job of improving our neighborhood while we are safely in our homes doing our jobs. I might tell her that one of her big jobs as a child is to learn, so being woken up by the trucks might be their way of letting her know it is time to learn about them, and the repaving of the street. If I were her mom I’d tell her, “If the trucks wake you up, come get me and we can look out the window and learn together.”
Okay, we keep getting scary blog posts from our kid in Ecuador, and I am telling myself it is okay. No need to talk me off the ledge, or anything, because I know that words are quite powerful and that’s all this is, words.
Words have the power to convey so much if you let them. Love. Fear. Mistrust. Doubt. Words are big.
So, he’s not sure he wants to pole-vault because the taxi ride to the far away city where the coaches are is notoriously fraught with knife-point hold-ups. Yeah, that’s a real stumbling block. The death threats en route to your sporting event. It is a leap of faith for me to imagine that my kid is mature enough to manage this, but really I trust he is in good hands with the people watching over him. I am imagining that the words he uses are loaded and that he, as usual, gauges his actions to keep himself safe. After all, he is deciding not to use the knifepoint hold-up taxi service, and what great judgment that shows!
He has shown me since he was little that he too does not want to injure himself. This is the notion that has kept me sane. I can see that he is on my side of this thing, equally invested in preserving his own life, and that it is not entirely up to me to point out life’s hazards, even though he sees them and measures them where others would leave them be. When he used to skateboard down the street using his hands instead of his feet, I could see how controlled he was about his movements, even as his head wobbled inches from the ground as he traveled downhill at breakneck speed. And truly he rarely got hurt.
That’s how I keep calm when I read the blog, realizing that he has a track record of preserving his own life thus eliminating the need for me to do it for him, not to mention the thrill he must get using powerful words such as “knifepoint” and “hold-up”. Looking the other way is quite useful too.
In answering his frightening blog posts I offer to him some equally powerful and scary words myself: “We are looking forward to next summer when you move back home.”
Okay, below is the kind of thing I read on my son’s blog periodically as he experiences the cultural exchange in Ecuador. Provided he lives to look back on these kinds of thrilling events he surely will see that he has learned some things along the way. But really, as a parent, I must train myself to look at this through new eyes. He is eighteen and typically he’d be in college by now and I would know nothing of his foolish escapades. Also, it helps that he has conditioned me since he was born to look the other way when he tries to injure/kill himself since so far he has failed to do either despite being quite daring and fearless. So, take note while your kids are little, if they have the “T” factor, I believe it is called, that inspires them to take risks greater than those you and I might take, it might be a good time to wallow in the delight of being able to personally inform them of the danger, unlike when they will be off to college or other such places tasting the world on their own. In other words, it is when they are young and scaring you to death that it is best to teach them how to protect themselves. We steered this son towards daring yet controlled feats like performing live on stage, and sports like pole-vaulting, to help channel his wild energy.
Here’s Andrew’s blog post for yesterday, and really, I woke up today still thinking about it:
A really big sport in Ambato is downhill. Its literally just taking a mountain bike with shocks and riding down the side of a mountain. There are paths but they look like this ——___——- and the bike wheel fits in the ___. So there is no room for the pedals. And it is extremely hard to break because youre riding on very fine dirt. Mateo and David brought me to try it. You have to pay someone with a pick up truck to drive you to the top of the mountain. From there we started the descent. It started off easy, not very steep and only a few random holes in the ground that I had to jump over while speeding down a hill. But the next part was terrible. I fell head over the handlebars 4 times. I almost rode off the side of the mountain. I had to jump off the bike because the breaks werent working. Towards the end, I was riding and passed a cow tied to a tree. I didnt think anything of it because it Ecuador, but I then found myself in danger. A dog, almost definately rabid, jumped out of nowhere and ran at me barking. It got very close but then was pulled back by the rope by which it was tied to another tree. It was freaking out. Then when I tried to run away more dogs, without leashes, came running, barking, at me. I had to bark at them and wave my arms while I walked backwards up the hill. It turns out I had taken a wrong turn into someones farm/hut/land(?). I got to the bottom of the mountain bleeding,
bruised, sore, dirty, and almost rabid.
The good thing about this post for me it that Andrew is still Andrew and clearly is having a good time exploring what it is to be on his own. Thankfully he spent his childhood teaching me what to expect and I am hardened against the horror of this scene. Or maybe it was my own childhood that took away my fears of getting hurt. To read a story from my childhood called, “You Could Get Electrocuted Doing That”, go to “You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen”.
One of my piano students yesterday was playing a piece we’d just started and she struggled to remember just how it goes. She debated over keys to push and haltingly made choices and eventually produced the music. Along the way she could have done what some of my students do, and that is look at me to see if they are doing it right, or for a clue as to whether they have their hands on the right notes. Some children look to me, but I do not give them much. I put on a poker face or look away because it has to come from them. I want them to dig deep and find what they have inside to trust in themselves.
It seems some kids are prepared to trust their own opinion, their own intuition, their own ideas about what to do next, and there are other kids who need to look outside themselves to see what to do. Maybe it’s something I barely recall from a psychology class an eon ago: the external versus the internal foci of attention. Do you need validation from outside, or can you validate yourself? Parents surely have a lot to do with this.
So I see it clear as a bell that some children do not ever look to me to help them figure out how the song goes that they’ve worked on at home and now much show. They trust they can find it in their mind somewhere and I applaud them when they do it. I point out that they have wisely trusted themselves and how proud I am of them for doing that.
I love seeing children who’ve been taught to trust themselves because eventually in life, if you are healthy, you will stand on your own two feet, and to me, there’s no time like right now to get started on that.