Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Surrendering to Carly’s Time


Bonding-Attunement, Parenting

Our adult world is overflowing with highly complex and compounded abstractions. At thirty-months and counting Carly’s world is still very concrete, sensory and in constant movement. There is inherent conflict in these two paradigms: Carly time and adult time. We create this conflict by the endless chatter between our ears that so easily pours out our mouth filling the spaces between us and the sky.

February is a magical time in Southern California. You can hear the trees and grass singing. The return of normal rainfall after five years has turned the hills emerald green. The air is crisp and you can see for miles. We took a hike down a dirt path, through oak meadows towards a lake that is slowly being replenished. The senses were overflowing. Talking was a distraction, so this walk was more or less in silence, naturally. Carly lead the way followed by three adults.

We could hear the slight hum of bees and the occasional call of wild ducks on the far side of the lake. The air was still. The reflection of the nearby hills shimmered in the cool water. In the forest or jungle the ambient decibels are just about what a quiet refrigerator generates. The natural silence made it easy to be quiet inwardly. As our inner silence expanded so did our senses. Far below a man fishing throttled up his tin boat. He made a U-turn heading to a new spot. The ripples on the lake made weaving paisley patterns that expanded and expanded. I would have missed this tapestry or slightly noticed if I were blabbing away inside or out. Carly lead Joseph down the path to the water’s edge. Z and I sat in the sun and simply looked and listened at nothing and everything. This shift of attention from abstract chatter to expansive sensory awareness was palpable. We were surrendering to Carly’s time. Attunement with her sensory world grew and the implicit conflicts with our adult expectations faded.

Every few days we comment how Carly is a new person again. Her bilingual vocabulary and conceptual depth continues to expand at astonishing speed. Her face and body changes. All of a sudden, she began making sad, fake crying and pouting faces accompanied by increased resistance to the requests we make. Oh, no! Are we all being tossed out of the garden? No, she is just raising the bar. We can’t get away with easy brush offs. Ambiguity is a no-fly zone. We need to mean what we say, say what we mean and mean it, without force, rewards or punishments. This demands attention, clarity, empathy and great communication skills. If she senses a crack, by that I mean ambiguity – she will use it. Intelligence and inventive perception are unfolding.

Some milestones are dramatic; crawling, standing, walking are good examples. These and others made the first two years breathtaking. Carly’s pace of development has not slowed. Quite the contrary. Her body and brain are expanding exponentially, with compounding complexity and sophistication, a rare word used for a toddler but so true. With language, the changes taking place are more hidden and subtle. The easy part is noticing the new words being used and with each deepening and expanding concepts. Today concepts like now, later, tomorrow, maybe, hungry, fun, sad, happy, coming, next and many others are common. As words join together to form sentences, concepts connect to create ideas.

There is a rope-coiled pedestal in my office, not quite three feet tall. Carly has a beanbag chair in her room. And there is a white step stool she uses in the kitchen. Combine all three, an idea, and you have a jumping platform, like diving board in a pool with the beanbag being the target. ‘I have an idea,’ Carly says. Inside these ideas keep churning and with them invention, play and creativity. Not long ago Carly would open a drawer to discover some new object to manipulate. Now she opens the drawer to find something that fits her idea. One is passive, looking for adventure or trouble. The other is following an imagined plan, an idea. Intention drives both but the source of the intention is now her own, preconceived and creative. This inner activity is not as concrete or physical as taking one’s first step. To catch what is taking place inwardly, we ‘dults’ need to be even more quiet and observant or we will miss it.

With ideas, inward inventiveness and creativity comes energy, direction, will and drive, all forces that trigger adults to say, “no, no, no, little bunny.” Our job is to nurture, facilitate and encourage this creative play of the mind and body, not crush it. To do so we need to see and feel what is taking place in and around our children, to join in and participate in the playful ideas as they convert spontaneously into physical action. Participating in this supportive way is quite impossible if we are enchanted by our adult virtual-reality: thinking, talking, texting, worrying, planning, prejudging, controlling, etc. This is what I mean by surrendering to Carly time; observing, surfing the present moment, adding to the unfolding play-idea while being careful not to take the lead and control. As Bev Bos would say, “do you need more sand? Here is a shovel,” helping, encouraging, expanding possibilities without stealing the show.

After her bath and hug-dry snuggling in the rocker, Carly is full of energy. Off comes the towel. Up goes her nose when offered jammies, socks or a robe. It is time to run. Out the door she scampers, butt naked, singing “running, running, running,” often with me in hot pursuit. What is it about running around and around like this? One of my earliest memories is chasing my brother Mark at this very age round the house in circles until my mother or father said, “no, no, no, you are driving us crazy.” This is a very early somatic memory, embodied. I remember the straw-like woven square matt covering the floor, before my parents could afford carpet, running, running, running, just like Carly Elizabeth.

I crawled back into bed to find, as usual, that Carly had taken my place, greeting me with her infectious smile. “I love you, I need you,” she sang. “I love you, I need you.” Where she got that I have no idea. But, then again, who am I to blow against the wind. “I love you, I need you….”

Michael Mendizza