Friday, September 5, 2014

Less is Not Loss

This was the summer of "Mama, can I go out and play?"

Of doors opening and closing over and over while kids retrieved toys and rope and balls and paper and any other prop that might enhance their imaginary plots and schemes.

Of hours of noise while the kids and their neighbor friends invented worlds and dramas upstairs in the air-conditioned game room.

Of hours of silence while they did the same at someone else's house.

This was the first summer when they weren't always tucked securely in sight.

When they were given the freedom to roam the street and sidewalks and a few known houses provided they kept me informed of their general location.

When they could grab their bike or scooter or skateboard (and helmet) and transport themselves at-will up and down the block.

This was their first real taste of physical independence, of the responsibility that comes with privilege, of negotiating social dynamics without an ever-present adult to remind and admonish.

This was a summer characterized by good old-fashioned childhood fun: kid-organized, kid-led, kid-negotiated, kid-fueled.

They loved every minute. So did I. And not just because I had more time to myself.

Though I was out of sight much of the time, I kept watch through the windows, I listened from a distance to the tenor and content of conversation, and I heard each of them offer suggestions, clarify ideas, work out conflict, and otherwise participate in this group dynamic as kind and productive members of the community. All of the kids.

When necessary, I stepped in to help redirect or problem-solve when conflict escalated. There were moments of discord, to be sure, but they were generally short-lived and solved by a brief break and conversation with mom or dad before heading back out to make amends and begin again.

What I observed filled me with respect and gratitude for my not-so-littles and with the conviction that this kind of summer was far more productive and valuable than any camp or activity I could have signed them up for. Essentially, they received a summer intensive in working with people who differ in personality, age, objective, and skill.

They learned:

-how to invent their own fun
-how to establish rules that are fair for everyone
-how to include children ranging in age from three years to thirteen
-how to share ideas, resources, and roles
-how to compromise and reach consensus when people disagree about what to play/how to play/where to play
-how to apologize when someone's feelings are hurt

But the kids weren't the only ones to benefit.

I saw Ben and Abby for fewer hours in the day than I would have in previous summers, I had less direct influence, but they continued to learn and hone the values and skills we've spent their lifetimes cultivating.

And the time we did spend together was enriched by the wonder of observing how absolutely competent and mature and amazing these two little people are. They thrilled me and filled me with thoughts like, I just really like my kids. They're such cool people! My role was smaller, but I learned this reduction is not a loss. Rather, the freedom is pure gift, like getting all the benefits of a home-cooked meal with only half the prep.

It's been nine years of intense, daily investment, but the time and effort are paying off. And this reality gives me faith and hope that if we stay the course in the coming years, other milestones of freedom and independence like getting a driver's license and going to college will be rewarding in the same way. The quantity of time together will be less, but I have hope that the quality of relationship with these truly wonderful humans will be even greater.

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