Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Beans, Beans and More Beans


Parenting, Play is Learning

Happiness is the ultimate wisdom and my goal, whenever I’m with Carly Elizabeth, is to be as wise as possible. My care and affection for Carly is so innocent and reciprocal that I find it unimaginable how anyone could harm, neglect, punish, embarrass, judge, compare, spank, scold or shame a young child, but they do, every day in every neighborhood all over the globe. Innocence implies trust and that trust assumes complete nurturing. And by nurturing I don’t mean pandering or spoiling. Carly climbs the wooden stairs by herself. By nurturing I mean staying close so she feels safe and can give complete attention to the challenge of the moment.

A few days ago marked the beginning of Carly’s fifteenth month. Fourteen months ago she burst on the scene, a stranger in a strange land, and we began our play-adventure together, fathers being a tad estranged the preceding nine months, but not anymore. Then and now I can hold Carly and instill a feeling of attuned confidence. Yes, my darling, you are safe enough to play.


Play, it turns out, is nature’s agenda for optimum learning and performance at any age, stage or activity and just about everything Carly does involves play in one form or another. We think of play as games, often contests. Renowned physicist David Bohm was the first to unveil the true nature of play: inquiry, curiosity, wonder, exploring relationship, complete attention, trust, a willingness to risk, freedom from fixed patterns, humor, affection, kindness, boundless energy, all this and more is packaged in that word – play. Play is a state that embodies all these qualities and this is what Carly is and does every day. She plays with life and in the process she defines herself. Now here’s a thought: the real meaning of mature intelligence is to play with life as Carly does with an adult mind and body. No, it doesn’t mean regressing to mud pies. It means learning every moment, never getting stuck in a psychological image or pattern, being fully present, curious and full of wonder as an adult. Are you?

Joseph Chilton Pearce and I collaborated on a book about play: Magical Parent – Magical Child. Every child is born magical. When he wrote his classic Magical Child, magical meant to Joe experiencing qualities and capacities that were beyond the limitations and constraints imposed by culture. Ideally children do this naturally. After all, magical in this context is our birthright. Magical Parent – Magical Child extended this magic to parents, parenting being a developmental stage as powerful and transforming as any in early childhood. And this is done through play, which brings us to beans, beans and more beans.

Three or four months ago, when Carly began to walk, I went to the natural foods market, brought home ten pounds of organic kidney beans and poured them into a large roasting pan. Ever since and every day Carly has done something new with beans. She scopes beans, tosses beans, carries beans up the stairs, stuffs them in her pants, eats them, poops them, hands them to the cat, shakes them is all sorts of containers, crams beans in her shoes sometimes casually, other times ever so serious. And, of course, we dults are forever finding beans in our socks. Beans, beans and more beans.We have other play things; the usual assortment of stuffed animals, wood blocks, a plastic bucket, felt finger puppets, but none the quality of engagement, over and over again as ten pounds of beans.

Do you know why? Because these little red beans are the perfect size for Carly to hold, shake, toss, pour, carry, dump and even eat. The golden toy rule is: the less articulated the better. Sand, water and clay are wonderful examples. Beans come close and are perfect for Carly’s age and ability. I scoop up a hand full and pour them in my shirt pocket and off she goes dropping beans in her pink socks. After all these months we are still coming up with new variations. This morning I squeezed a bean between her toes and then another and another. Beans, beans and more beans.

Carly is different today than yesterday. She is more sophisticated. Language is taking form. “Is it time to let the water out?” She nods and pulls the plug from the tub. “Do you have a stinky?” She smiles and nods. “Is it time for a walk?” She scampers to the closet and brings a sock or taps on the door. I shake my head. Look at everything she has learned in fourteen months! Every day is a miracle. Oh, my! Carly just climbed in the roasting pan and is pouring beans all over the floor. Beans, beans and more beans.

Michael Mendizza