How dare they?
For reasons only she knows, as we were slipping on her pajamas, Carly stopped. She wiggled free and ran naked to the closet where her shoes lay waiting. I, of course, being focused on preparing for bed, interpreted her escape as just that, a creative diversion to keep play going as long as possible. Play isn’t an activity. Play is a state of being, a unique quality of attention and relationship to whatever is happening at the moment. From her play perspective, sleeping is like dying. Who wants to do that? I explain, as best I can, that if we don’t sleep and just keep playing, we will all get tired and then grumpy and then we won’t have fun anymore. So, it is important to get lots of sleep so we can wake up fresh and keep playing. But that is another story.
Sitting in the closet Carly was struggling to slip on a pair of soft furry boot-like slippers. “Can I help,” I asked. “OK,” she said. I sat on the floor, snuggled her to my lap and begun tugging on the furry boots. “I think they are too small,” I said. “Yes, I’m growing very fast,” she replied, something I say almost daily, and it is true. I am astonished at her exponential progress, like a freight train whistling in the night, every night. Because mom is such a good shopper, another pair of similar furry boot-like slippers were in reach. “These are not too small,” she said. I carried Carly holding the furry slippers back to the bed. This time we easily slipped on her pajamas and her white night blouse. “This way,” she said, slipping it over her head. Then came the boots, one and then the next.
Up she jumped. “They slide,” she said, shuffling as if she was ice-skating. “Slippery,” I replied as she shuffled out the door. “I have to pee,” she announced, plopping on the floor, pulling off her boots, her pants, and sleeping diaper. She climbed up her stool and onto the toilet. When finished, which was in just a few seconds, she climbed up the other stepstool in front of the sink and washed her hands. I handed her a towel. “The boots are too slippery for this,” she said, referring to the stepstool. Wow, I thought. Carly was thinking that far ahead, about not slipping of the stepstool in her furry boots. Months ago, on another stool, wearing pink rain boots, she did slip and fall.
Reflecting, as I do about everyday events, like running away when I am bent on getting ready for bed, I realized that I often take what Carly is doing as seriously as she does, and this is often very seriously even when I don’t understand why. I have no idea why she had to get those furry boot-slippers that very moment, but she did. Her attention and energy wasn’t casual or frivolous. She was quite serious about it. How often, I mused, did just such an event spark conflict, tears and even punishment? This was followed, on the instant, with a question, is Carly spoiled? Do I let her have her way too often? Am I being too permissive? Helping her tug her sleeping diaper back up and over her butt, and then her pants and night shirt - again, Carly said, “let’s read a book.” And we did.
Don’t get me wrong. Carly gets frustrated and mad just like the rest of us. Sometimes I intervene, because my needs are just as important as hers are, and she wiggles and screams. My challenge is to know the difference between some preconceived agenda and a real need. Often we can wait a few moments before I, as my father used to say, lower the boom. Creating the space for those extra moments for Carly to shift momentum and appreciate my cause can make a world of difference.
The inner question of being spoiled and too permissive was followed by another question; what would our relationship be like if I did not take what Carly was doing seriously? How would I feel if others did not take what I was doing seriously? How many times each day does a near three-year-old act impulsively and passionately without our having a clue why or what for? I can hear Bev Bos asking the same question; “Who cared about furry –boot-slippers? Carly did! It was important to her!”
Of course, there are moments when I have needs too. Don’t touch the hot stove or it’s time to pack up and go. The question about being too permissive or spoiled is answered in these moments. Do my needs matter to Carly as much as her needs matter to me? In our case, the answer is yes, when I allot Carly a handicap for her entrained attention. Does she actually hear and then register my need in her ‘child of the dream’ play state? Can I be a little patient and coax her out of her dream and into another that we share? Is Carly completely self-absorbed or does she see and have empathy for others? Does she act in caring ways when she feels another’s need? I have to say yes, and often in surprising ways. What a lovely world it would be if others were as kind and attentive as Carly is naturally, without being encouraged or told to say, thank you. Carly says, thank you, because that is what we say to her. When I take the few extra seconds and sink deeply into Carly’s experience, when I appreciate how important this moment is to her, I change, and that means - everything changes.
Taking our children’s needs, interest, their feelings, passion and impulsiveness seriously even when we don’t know why or what for, is a radical shift. We are so conditioned to predict and control. And that conditioning, that well etched groove, breeds the roots of abuse and violence that spreads far beyond our children to nations, states and countless wars. We teach our children to be violent when we don’t take their feeling and needs seriously, when we get angry as they wiggle free from our agenda and rummage in the closet, and then condemn them for being angry and mean. How dare they!
In a few weeks Playful Wisdom will arrive, featuring a forward by Gabor Mate MD, and treastures from Joseph Chilton Pearce and bev Bos. How good is that? I’m asking everyone who has benefited from the labor of joy called Touch the Future to order an advanced autographed hardbound edition of Playful Wisdom, and I will send an additional soft cover book for you to gift to a new mother or father. You keep the autographed hard cover edition and give the second to someone you love. Please. This is paying forward at its best.