Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

No! It Is Not Easy


Parenting, Playful Advice

Love transforms effort and attention into near constant nurturing, and nurturing is a transformative practice. Years ago Joseph Chilton Pearce described how all learning in the early years involves movement and, at seventeen months, Carly Elizabeth is in near perpetual motion. She never stops! She weighs twenty-two pounds and I, a strapping one-hundred and seventy. You would think I could keep up. Not a chance. It takes a village.

It is painfully evident how habitual and reparative we ‘dults’ are. A few years ago there was some discussion about how many thoughts we have each day. Estimates ranged from 50,000 to 70,000 and Deepak Chopra pointed out that most are repeats. While children need predictability and rhythm they also crave novelty and new adventures. How do we maintain a healthy balance between predictable and new? That is a big challenge and it keeps changing every day.

Some years ago I interviewed Dr. Marian Diamond, one of the foremost researchers of the anatomy of the brain and author of Enriching Heredity: The Impact of the Environment on the Anatomy of the Brain. Marian described how boring, impoverished sensory environments limited and constrained brain growth while enriched environments nurtured and stimulated growth and development. We also discussed how overstimulation caused the rats she was studying to shut down and withdraw, resulting in reduced development. Too much stimulation slams the brakes on development. Balance is a blend of predictable and safe and new possibilities, and that implies adventure and risk.

Feeling inadequate to keep up I called Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Waldorf educator and author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, a classic. “Stop trying,” she advised. “At this age the child wants to do what you are doing. Take you cue from the child. Stop trying to entertain all the time.”

I pulled the step stool by the kitchen counter so she could see and touch what I was doing and proceeded to crack open a fresh coconut. A few moments later she was pushing the stool around like a shopping cart. When I shave, the old fashioned way with lather and a blade, she sits on the edge of the sink, feet splashing, quite happily playing with the toothbrush and lather. Not content with being passive, she places the lid back on the container, grabs the toothpaste and removes the top. And this goes on every waking moment, constant movement, constant interaction and constant learning.

I keep reminding myself that Carly Elizabeth’s world is one of sensation, movement and feelings. She understands more words than we imagine but the inner world of word-images, what we call symbolic-imagination is still some months away. She studies us like a treasure map. After nearly a year-and-one-half of this intense observation she knows our patterns very well. And don’t forget, we are mostly habits.

Others have picked up on the ‘helping’ role. Carly pulls the clothes out of the dryer, tosses papers in the trash. When she is finished she lifts her plate off the tray and places it on the table. “Are you done?” I ask. Her head nods. Z, my beautiful wife, and I were resting on a beanbag chair. Carly stopped what she was doing, crawled over and kissed me, a big, juicy smack. Wow! Another first! Today she climbed to the top of an eight foot ladder. I was close enough to catch but did not help. Up was relatively easy. Down was another matter. Like a kitten stuck in a tree she paused for a long time. Then glanced down at me and I helped. The next trip up was steady and sure. There was no pause at the top. Carly stretched her foot down, almost touching the rung. I whispered, placed one of her hands so she could stretch a little more and tugged her tiny foot two inches. Have you ever repelled down a mountain? We repeated this six more rungs down. Then came ‘the glance’ and we were off for a different adventure. Climbing an eight foot ladder was a new experience. Bonding, having a safe place deep inside made it possible.

What is so amazing is that in many ways physically and emotionally Carly is equal to me, perhaps not as developed but the basics are there. When I set aside my abstract concepts, hopes, fears and expectations and relate based on these basic common patterns, accurate and appropriate communication flows. There is shared knowing. The dull boredom or frustrated conflict I see in some children isn’t there. Without using words I am able to express my feelings and needs and she, more often than not, understands and meets them. My guiding principle is to model clear behavior, and that includes boundaries, without a hint of wrong, blame or bad. Because I honor and respect her needs – she respects mine. Being with her is very demanding, not easy, but a joy, like dancing.

Carly is a toddler through and through. Joe Pearce described how intent always precedes capacity. She wants to ‘do’ far more than she is capable. If the lid does not fit after a few tries she often tosses it aside. Often her frustration is intense. Mastery is transforming frustration into grace and ease. Like a pro athlete Carly practices every day and it looks a lot like play.

Michael Mendizza